Record season in more ways than one as Vale celebrate fantastic campaign
It was a record breaking season for the Vale of Lune's first team in more ways than one.
Not only was it their first outright championship since the 2002/03 season but the 100 match points they accumulated was also a record.
Vale’s ability to move the ball wide brought them 150 tries, plus three penalty tries, there might have been more tries credited but the St Benedicts’s statistics were removed following the Whitehaven club’s expulsion from the league, they were defeated by Vale 91-0 in February.
There were 106 conversions and 20 penalty goals kicked but for the second season in succession there were no drop goals.
In 11 of their games the Vale posted scores in excess of 50 with one in the 80s, 87-20 at home against Warrington and one in the nineties, 92-7 at home against Rochdale, providing more than a measure of satisfaction following their shock 9-3 defeat over at Moorgate Avenue in February.
But it was not all singing and dancing and skipping merrily down the Yellow Brick Road because there were some decidedly tight victories that seriously tested the Vale’s defensive capabilities.
The two games against Firwood Waterloo, a 15-13 win away and a 20-14 victory at The Lane in a feisty encounter, were tense gripping games, as was the 12-5 win at Northwich and the 15-8 victory in diabolical conditions over in Douglas.
The outcomes for all games were delicately balanced and dramatic with the margins between victory or defeat paper thin.
Vale’s eight game unbeaten run came to an end against Douglas at home 31-22 in November which caused a few tremors, but in their defence Vale were missing six players who had soundly defeated Stockport the previous week, 53-17 at home.
However, few excuses could be made for their second defeat over at Rochdale where Vale failed to adapt to the conditions and eventually cast away any game plan in the direction of the Pennines.
The four defeats Vale suffered were huge disappointments, there were many who would have liked the team to have emulated Kirkby Lonsdale’s magnificent record of going through the season undefeated but it was not to be.
There was some compensation because first ever doubles were achieved against Firwood Waterloo, Warrington and Northwich.
Damon Hall set his stall out early on in the campaign to tilt at some of the individual records and by the end of the season he became the club’s top points scorer, his 444 points bettering the record of 429 established by Mike Curran in the 1980/81 season.
His 43 tries broke the record of 41 set by Nick Royle in the 2013/14 season.
The flying winger might have added to his totals but he broke his jaw in two places in a training session in January and did not return until the away fixture in Douglas on March 10.
Olly Jacques, who played in every game, ran in 20 tries, Fergus Owen 14, while Evan Stewart was the forward’s leading try scorer with 12.
There were 42 players who represented the first team which included eight debutants.
Personal milestones were reached and passed by a number of players; Sam Wallbank 200-plus, Dan Baines and Andy Powers 150, Ross Pillow 100-plus, Jack Turton, Dan Rainford and Harry Fellows all 50-plus.
Tony Storey, Vale’s experienced and highly respected touch judge, has pounded the line in excess of 500 times.
Vale went through the season with a reasonably settled side although at various times players were ruled out because of injury and unavailability.
In addition to Hall, Jonty Higgin and Jordan Dorrington all collected injuries, while prop Jack Ferguson did not feature again after the fixture in Douglas. Worryingly injuries were sustained by Ben Dorrington and Jack Sadler in the final games of the season.
Sadly, Alex Baines failed to make an appearance all season with a long term injury problem, while brother Dan and Ben Charnley have been forced to retire because of injuries that refused to respond to treatment.
The two defeats at Burnage and Wilmslow in the final games were something off an anti-climax.
But for those who witnessed the scenes at Powderhouse Lane – when the North One West trophy was presented after the Northwich game – will remain in the memory for many years to come, especially the crescendo of sound that erupted into a vibrant exclamation mark on what had been an incredible season.
The season began with the Black Nights parachuting onto the immaculate green sward but by the end of the 56-17 victory against Burnage, Pegasus was already in the shafts as Vale’s chariot of fire was unleashed.
The club’s second-string also gained promotion from the Cotton Traders Premiership in second place with a league record very similar to the first team, only losing four of their games.
In addition they reached the semi finals of the BEST Cup before going out at home against a strong Sedgley Park second team 29-12. In the previous rounds the Vale had won at home against Stockport seconds, 36-0 and away at Wilmslow seconds, 29-10.
There were high scoring victories at home against Preston Grasshoppers’ thirds 88-0 and 86-0, and Rossendale second at home 74-6.
Rochdale seconds were beaten home and away 58-21 and 52-5 respectively.
The half century mark was passed against Wirral seconds with a 52-7 home win to complete the treble.
A total of 147 tries, plus a penalty try, 95 conversions and 12 penalties made up the seconds season’s statistics.
Alex Briggs was the leading points scorer with three tries, 57 conversions and three penalty goals.
Sam Velasce Hoare signed off his all too brief career with the Vale by becoming the top try scorer with 18, closely followed by skipper Scott Manning with 13.
The seconds used a total of 68 players with many only making a single appearance and as always lost their more experienced players when they were called up to the first team; this is a perennial problem which has its repercussions at third and fourth team levels.
Matt Field played in 22 games and came on as a replacement in one but like the first team the seconds are going to meet fresh challenges when they step up a level which will test both resources and commitments.
Both the thirds and fourths battled their ways through a demanding season but they were able to survive in their respective leagues, unfortunately victories few and far between making it a hard physical and mental slog.
A hard core of experienced players ensured spirits remained high and the Vale were able to field four senior sides, a massive achievement when so many clubs are finding it difficult to attract sufficient players to maintain sides when competing with all the demands and pressures that are made on individuals leisure time.
Former Heysham High School Physical Education teacher and England RUFC Head Coach, Stuart Lancaster, was an important member of the Leinster coaching staff that saw the Irish team lift the Champions Cup in Bilbao in a dramatic 15-12 victory over French side Racing 92.
In their play off game Wilmslow won a real nail biter over at Driffield 24-21 to book their place alongside the Vale of Lune in North Premier next season.
Vale’s Annual General Meeting will be held in the clubhouse on Thursday, May 17 at 7.30 pm.