MATLOCK RFC 1sts go into the final two league games of the campaign looking to end their Midlands One East campaign with six of the best.
The in-form Cromford Meadows-based team have strung together four league wins in a row and are homing in on fifth place in the table, a final placing that would delight coach Alan Johnson.
He explained: “Four in a row is a fantastic run for us, the best of the season. Sixth was my aim pre-season and we are going to achieve that with plenty to spare so the aim now is to finish in fifth because we are only three points behind Towcestrians with two left to play, and one of those is against them.”
The latest win came last Saturday in the final home league of the season, beating Bedford Athletic 35-33 in a ding-dong battle in front of a healthy crowd as part of the club’s Vice-Presidents’ Day.
Alan Johnson said: “To be honest, being 10-0 up inside ten minutes maybe gave the lads a false impression but Bedford had won three in a row themselves so they were obviously a decent side. But we got there in the end and that’s what counts.
“We didn’t play as well as maybe we could do, but I think we could have lost that game earlier in the season, which shows the progress. We had to dig deep and stick at it.
“The confidence is there that our hard work will pay off. We have a belief in our ethos, which is to train hard, work hard in the match, and hopefully the rewards will come.
“Heads didn’t go down, we ground it out. We have improved dramatically in recent weeks and obviously the results help in that, but there is a feeling that no matter what the opposition comes up with, we can handle it.”
Although Johnson has been impressed with the squad as a whole across the season, a handful of names in recent weeks have drawn particular praise for their efforts.
“One of the driving forces in the current run is Jack Wagg in the forwards. He has been fantastic both in training and on matchdays.
“Jack is not as big as some in the back row but he wins a lot of breakdown ball, steals the ball well, does the unglamorous things very well, and reads the game excellently because he’s always where he needs to be. He’s a calming influence and his workrate is fantastic.
“Chris Young is comfortably the leading kicker in the league so having him back has really helped us and Henry Packard, who is the second leading try scorer, has also impressed. His pace has proved a handful for opponents.
“We are second highest try scorers in the league so that is pleasing and generally, the whole squad has stepped it up since the Christmas break.”
The squad’s attitude on and off the pitch is something that has impressed the coach.
“What we have got here is something like 85 per cent of the first team squad who are Matlock lads. They are Matlock through and through and have come through the youth system.
“Then there are those who come to us because they are ambitious but also because we are a traditional club with a particular club ethos and that is that players are looked after, we train hard, support each other on and off the pitch, turn up to help at fundraisers and club events etc. Camaraderie has helped keep us going during the low points and the rewards are now being felt. We were able to build on the good work carried out last season and take it on from there.
“It all bodes well for both the present and the future. Our long-term aim of finishing sixth has now been achieved so we have altered our short-term aim, and that is to catch Towcestrians in fifth.
“The win against Bedford was achieved in front of a crowd of around 200 people who were there for the VPs’ day. The VPs were chuffed to bits, to be honest, and there was a lot of pride in the way it went.
“The lads gave their all and showed a never-say-die attitude. Ben Neville was a good example of this because he pulled his hamstring but he stayed on because he knew we would have to go down to 14 men at a crucial time otherwise.
“His attitude was excellent, he got through the pain barrier and even got the winning try.”
Matlock were due to play Dronfield last night (Wednesday) at home in the semi-final of the Derbyshire Cup and they then travel to Towcestrians on Saturday for that crunch game that could decide who finishes fifth.