[A]spatria’s 21:15 victory over Salford based De La Salle keeps them on top of the league for another week but it is now just a matter of time before second placed St Benedicts harvest sufficient points from their four games in hand and claim the League Championship.
Aspatria are now neck and neck with third placed Bolton to claim the play-off spot. Their ambitions in this direction took a blow against De La Salle as they failed to earn a four try bonus point. This might prove crucial in the chase for promotion. The play-off , if it comes, will be against West Park St Helens who are guaranteed the runner-up position in the South Lancashire and Cheshire league.
Aspatria started the game without several front line players but such is the current strength in-depth at Bower Park that it barely seemed to matter as the Black Reds raced into an early lead. Ken Bowes from his full back position had already made two searing runs prior to his 6th minute try. It was a superb individual effort with Bowes fielded the ball in his own half, tight to the right touchline. His pace took him to the waiting defensive line where he hacked through into the deadball area and with a daring dive manager to get finger tips on the ball,inches from it going out of play. Jack Clegg converted for 7:0.
De La Salle’s response demonstrated that they had not travelled North to make up the numbers. Aspatria’s defence was tested time and again by the direct running of the visitors back row. The defence held but at the cost of giving away a wide out penalty. It looked a gamble to take a pot at goal rather than keep the pressure on the home side but Chris Petrou made no mistake and DLS were back in business at 7:3
Aspatria went into the game knowing that a bonus point win was needed and this clearly impacted on their tactics. Twice in the first half Aspatria declined penalties in front of the posts in favour of chasing tries. No one could fault this aspiration but it did not pay off as DLS matched Aspatria’s ambition with an equally resolute defence.
In the bright sunshine the game was being played at a frantic pace. Aspatria, perhaps had a slight edge in both scrum and lineout but it was not significant enough to tip the game in their favour as the teams took turns in both attack and defence. Just before half time Aspatria had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock when a superb backs move from the right flank over to the left wing manoeuvred winger Grant Bethwaite over the line but he was held up and the half ended with the score line remaining at 7:3.
In the early exchanges of the second half DLS hit a golden patch and with only 3 minutes gone Aspatria surrendered the lead. Following a penalty the visitors pack regained the ball and pressurised the Aspatria line. Defenders were sucked in and a swift move to the right corner created space for back rower, Ryan Worthington to go in at the flag. Petrou’s kick was good and at 7:10 Aspatria had work to do.
The DLS score triggered something in the Aspatria ranks as for the next 20 plus minutes they ran riot and looked like a side sitting on top of the league. There were several leaders on the pitch but none better than second row, Mark Beverley, who set a great example with his all-round energy and uncompromising tackling. The comeback score came on 48 minutes. The home forwards had done a great job in moving the ball to the try line but it took the smallest man on the pitch to finally take the ball at the base of a ruck and burrow his way through a mountain of bodies for the score. Up and smiling, Clegg kept hold of the ball and converted his try with a superb kick from the touchline.
On 53 minutes,14:10 became 21:10. This score was all about the back division. Centre Kris Borthwick did the early damage with an arcing run before Bethwaite go his hands on the ball and raced down the left wing. Bethwaite sucked in the defence and had Bowes on his shoulder to take his pass and race under the posts.
Three tries scored and one more needed for the bonus point.Still nothing could be taken for granted as DLS, when in possession, continued to look dangerous. With the game moving into the last quarter the visitors knew that a comeback was on the cards. Aspatria seemed to be tiring and DLS looked energised, even more so when they scored on 67 minutes. Again it was forward power that did the initial damage and created the opportunity for Paul Berry to get over the line. Petrou’s conversion was good for 21:15 and only a minute later he came close to narrowing the gap when his long range penalty bounced of the crossbar.
Aspatria, perhaps sensing that it was now or never, regained the upper hand and bludgeoned a path to the DLS try line. Gary Hodgson who had a fine game at No8 was a constant threat with his breaks for the back of scrums and it with only minutes remaining he used this weapon to get himself across the line. Unfortunately, for Hodgson and Aspatria a DLS defender had his hand under the ball and the referee brought play back for an Aspatria scrum. The danger remained; next over the line was Clegg, it looked a certain score but the referee adjudged a handling error and disallowed the effort, leaving Aspatria to rue the loss of a precious bonus point.