Manchester 7-38 Vale of Lune

Ben Charnley under pressure.
Ben Charnley under pressure.
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The last time the Vale of Lune visited Grove Park was in September 1994 when they suffered a 58-14 hammering against a club that was scorching through the league system, but in the intervening years, one of the oldest open rugby union clubs in the world have seen their fortunes decline.

With just two victories they again find themselves trying to dodge an asteroid of relegation along with Fleetwood and Anselmians.

While Manchester wrestle with the tentacles of relegation the Vale are on the cusp of promotion, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Coach Paul Woodward as he prepares his charges for a series of demanding fixtures beginning on Saturday with a visit of North One West leaders, Liverpool St Helens, who have yet to be beaten on the road, although they have been suffered two home defeats, one at the hands of the Vale, 26-18 at the end of September; a situation that is bound to give an extra edge to the game on Saturday.

Coach Woodward is full of praise for his squad of players, in particular the reaction of the younger players who have shown great resolve and determination, with everyone buying into the coach’s philosophy.

The spirit and teamwork that was much in evidence against Leigh was shown against Manchester.

There was always the thought that the Vale would underestimate Manchester and slide to a costly defeat but the visitors produced a busy, workmanlike display against a Manchester side that played with spirit throughout and did not allow the Vale to showboat.

To their credit the Vale did not let their approach to be swayed by their host’s position in the league, complacency was not written into their script.

Six tries banked the all-important bonus point and by the hour mark victory was secured and cynics might say the Vale should have kicked on.

But a combination of Manchester’s resistance, and a second half that saw the Vale using their full complement of replacements as players picked up niggling injuries with the one sustained by prop James Hesketh, who suffered a recurrence of his shoulder problem which he sustained against Carlisle at the beginning of December, being the most serious.

Number eight Ben Charnley crowned an impressive display with a hat- trick of tries, winger Nick Royle ran in a brace and he might have been buying a jug but he unselfishly sent James Hodder over for the final try which Hodder converted to add to his three earlier conversions.

Jonty Higgin at stand off was solid throughout. He was aware of everything going on around him and reading the percentages well, successfully setting the line moving, kicking accurately and growing into the number 10 jersey with increasing confidence.

Back after injury Andy Powers again showed what a versatile player he is with an imposing display in not only the art of hooking but an unerring accuracy with his line out throwing which hit their target with the regularity of Eric Bristow in his heyday.

In the backs, centre David Haigh carried on where he left off last week, showing excellent positional sense, carrying the ball well, able to spot an opening, pulling off a number of important tackles when Manchester opened up play and building up a working relationship with his fellow centre, Sam Moorby.

Darren Wilson made an early searing break in a move that was carried on by Moorby and Lee Acton. Manchester responded with a dangerous break from winger Matt Davies that had the pulses racing for those in the appropriately named ‘Pacemakers Stand.’

In the sixth minute the Vale took the lead when Charnley peeled off the back of a maul following a ten metre line out for a try which Hodder converted from wide out on the right.

Manchester hit back with a series of thrusts that softened the Vale up for a score in the 14th minute, stand off Richard McCartney touched down between the posts and added the conversion.

Two minutes later the Vale regained the lead with a neatly taken try.

The ball was moved quickly to a sparsely populated blind side from a scum.

After a moments hesitation Royle went from a trot to a gallop after meeting little resistance for an unconverted try.

With the Vale in the ascendancy Manchester were pushed back on the defensive for long periods but the Vale were restrained until the closing minutes of the half.

From a well-controlled churning scrum the Vale took Manchester close to their line and eventually over it to allow Charnley to dot the ball down, Hodder adding the conversion.

There were a number of lively attacking exchanges in the opening minutes of the second half and in the 49th minute Charnley collected his hat being ideally positioned on the fringe of a forward drive.

Wilson made a break deep in Vale territory before releasing Hodder who raced 60 metres before a despairing tackle hauled him down.

But the Vale only had to await a minute before Royle pounced again.

Fielding a misdirected kick the winger juggled with the ball, an involuntary action that seemed to confuse the defenders, and before they could recover.

Royle touched down between the posts, Hodder again converted.

Vale, by now comfortably in control, rang the changes and their final score arrived in the 60th minute.

From a Vale counter attack Royle sprinted clear but with Hodder on his elbow, now playing at scrum half after Wilson had been replaced, he eschewed glory by slipping a pass to Hodder for his try which he converted.

In perfect spring like conditions the game meandered to its conclusion only marred from a Vale perspective by the injury to Hesketh caused when the prop rose to deflect the ball only to have his shoulder pop out again, in what turned out to be an ideal contest for the Vale against a determined, competitive Manchester side.

Vale of Lune: R Ward; N Royle, S Moorby, D Haigh, J Hodder; J Higgin, D Wilson (Capt) (A Macluskie 56); A Cowey, A Powers, J Hesketh (S Wallbank 67); L Acton, S Wallbank (P Berry 46); R Randall (G Tudor 29), D Lin ( B Charnley 73), B Charnley (R Randall 58)