Melbourne triumph against local rivals Long Eaton
By Matt Derbyshire
Melbourne 22 - 15 Long Eaton
Melbourne welcomed the vastly improved Long Eaton to Cockshut Lane, the local noisy neighbours having publicly set themselves an objective to go undefeated post Christmas and results to back that ambitious target up. With Long Eaton sitting firmly at second place in the league, this was set to be a hearty encounter, with an added edge of a tasty local derby to boot.
Conditions wise, it was a damp, wet and overcast Saturday afternoon where a strong downfield wind threatened to dictate the outcome of the game.
Melbourne's selection was from a strong squad and despite the absence of Devon Iliffe, a late injury to prop forward Mark Coyne , illness for Joe Nicholson and withdrawal of Captain Euan Holden during the warm-up, Melbourne were able to re-call Chris Rudkin making his comeback appearance following a long injury lay-off and Joe Stuart who had recovered from a leg injury.
The starting line-up saw a shuffle in the pack as Gary Lakin returned to tighthead prop with Jack Percival and Jordan Goddard completing the front row. The second row welcomed James Benstead back from Uni paired with Alex Nightingale. The backrow shuffle continued with Andy Matin adopting open side, Harry Stephenson Blindside and Tom Warren at No. 8.
The backline saw Jack Fisher switched stand off, Charlie Livesey back at Outside Centre and Sam Hancock returning to claim his wing spot and take on kicking duties.
Melbourne started strongly, putting Long Eaton on the back foot immediately from kick-off with strong carries getting in behind the Long Eaton defence. The first fifteen minutes saw the majority of the game being played in the visitors half, Melbourne looking to find an opportunity to take control of the game and the first points on offer came from a penalty. Sam Hancock converting the points to take a 3 point lead.
An injury to jack pearce saw an early change with Joe Stuart taking a centre birth and combing well with Charlie Livesey to wreak havoc and create some excellent opportunities for broken field running.
Long Eaton came into the game thereafter using the wind to there advantage to try and pin the green&gold back, on a couple of occasions Long Eaton over egged the kick seeing the ball go out on the full for a re-set scrum - where Melbourne were dominant.
The first try came from a penalty on the halfway line, an infringement for not rolling quick enough saw a kick to touch for Long Eaton. An attempted maul was dismantled but a series of strong driving carries saw the blues get to within a metre of the try line. Despite several attempts to ground the ball over the line, Melbourne's dogged defence held firm until Ben Taylor managed to spin in contact and reach for the line which was well converted by Morgan-Williams.
Melbourne rallied, knowing that the wind was playing a big factor in the game they kept the ball in hand and worked well as a team to regain territory. Playing the ball down right wing with excellent interlink play saw Stephenson in support of an excellent break by Oli Saffel , Jack Fisher and Joe Livesey. The ball was moved through the hands and Stephenson collected the final pass to finish well for an unconverted score. 8 - 7
A yellow card for Alex Nightingale, adjudged harshly to have handled on the floor, saw the green&gold reduced to fourteen men. The game remained in the balance and Melbourne managed the game well whilst a man down. Long Eaton took a two point lead into the break as they converted a penalty.
Melbourne knew that they had to use the advantage of the wind second half. They got off to bad start as the lively Veenendaal , who had had an excellent game, picked a fantastic line to split the 12/13 channel and glided at pace through the would be defenders and sprinted free for the attentions of the covering Livesey who made the tackle but the ball was offloaded to the supporting Jacob Wright for a well taken try.
Melbourne didn't panic, they used their experience well and managed the game superbly led expertly by Warren, Page and Fisher. Putting the visitors under significant pressure saw several penalties and yellow card (for Dec Neary) fall in their favour as Hancock was able to superbly convert three more penalties to take a 17 - 15 lead. Strong running by James Benstead, Charlie Livesey and Oli Saffel saw several line breaks putting the visitors under pressure. Melbourne gained further ascendency with the introduction of Judge and Rudkin, who added real impetus to the overall performance. Melbourne were dominating and their defensive shift combined with Fishers boot pinned the visitors back as they rarely gave an inch.
A second yellow for the green&golds saw Tom Warren punished for a high tackle and the home side were down to fourteen again for the last ten minutes of the match.The green&gold consolidated their lead though, through the belligerent Percival who finished superbly well under the attention of several would be defenders as he reached for the line under a mass of bodies. A superb finish. The final score being 22 - 15
This was a mature and assured performance from Melbourne, a true test of their ability and character for a full eighty minutes. The players can be proud of this performance. There is no time for rest of complacency however, as a stern test in the form of Loughborough awaits them. Long Eaton dropping to fifth in the league with this loss and Loughborough up to this following their win - showing the competitiveness and tightness of the competition this year.
Man of the Match - Harry Stephenson, a performance to be truly proud of. A hugely impressive tackle count, excellent support play and led from the front with a try to boot!
TRIES: Stephenson & Percival
KICKS: Penalties x 4
RC / YC: A Nightingale, T Warren