Matlock RFC 1sts welcomed league newcomers Towcestrians to Cromford Meadows on a damp and dreary afternoon where Alan Johnson’s side needed a victory to sustain their fifth place in the league.
With up to a dozen of the more experienced players sidelined with injury, Matlock found themselves ringing the changes yet again and almost up to the starting whistle.
The early exchanges indicated that Matlock, despite the heavy casualty list, had the better of their opponents out wide and, as if to prove the point, took the lead on nine minutes when they kicked long for Packard to chase and he was justly rewarded as the ball bounced over the tryline, off the corner flag, and Packard stole the touchdown from under the full back’s nose.
Mackrell converted brilliantly from the touchline to give the home side a deserved seven-point lead.
The home side, however, were struggling to show their normal fluency and cutting edge in the backs. Towcester began to get themselves on the front foot using the driving maul to good effect, aided on the day by Matlock missing the presence of their two beefier lock forwards.
The visitors, buoyed by their success in this area and Matlock’s inability to clear their lines properly, scored two catch and drive tries to take a 10-7 lead with 32 minutes gone.
If the injury list wasn’t already big enough, Matlock lost Whittaker, then their captain Jack Wagg with a back injury.
On 37 minutes, Towcester increased their lead with a converted try after their number eight broke down the blindside.
Matlock continued to dig deep and scored a try just before half-time which gave their fans a glimmer of the skill and pace they have become used to.
Turnover ball was won deep in Matlock’s half, the ball was quickly shipped to Packard who raced past his opposite number and then left the covering defender floundering in the mud as he raced away to score. Mackrell again added the extras. Half-time came with the score at 14-17.
Coach Alan Johnson gave a rallying speech of encouragement and praised the effort and the attitude. Throughout the second half, there was nothing to choose between the two sides, which is testament to Matlock’s young side and the remainder of the game, by and large, was played in no man’s land in the middle third of the pitch.
For much of the half, Matlock looked the better side, especially when the forwards took their opponents on with some excellent pick and drives.
On a rare sortie into the Matlock 22, Towcester scored a pushover try as the pack struggled to maintain a foothold on the greasy surface.
The lead was further extended with a penalty and finally a drop goal before the final whistle brought the game to an end.
The game was hardly a spectacle and Matlock were disappointed as this game was still winnable. It was good experience for some of the squad’s younger players with Luke Howard and Tom Wright both worthy of mention.
This week is the last game before a well-earned Christmas break. Matlock are at home to bottom side Coalville but with the current injury list cannot afford to be complacen. Kick off is at 2.15pm.