Burntwood RUFC secured an opening day win at Willenhall in the new league campaign – but it was mighty close.
The visitors established a 15 point half time lead but squandered more opportunities to pull further away and a resurgent home side almost made them pay.
Willenhall completed the league double over Burntwood last season so this was always going to prove a stiff test and so it proved as the hosts dominated the opening quarter.
The hosts had all the possession which they used to launch their big forwards in a series of pick and go moves around the fringes. The first attack reached the visitors’ 22 but ended in a knock on. The next reached the five metre line only to end with a penalty decision against.
On ten minutes the home right winger escaped down the touchline. It took a great tackle by Alan Mapp, one of several during this period, to snuff out the danger.
Three minutes later Willenhall had their first kick at goal following a penalty for offside but the attempt missed the target.
It was not until the 18th minute that Sean Latham’s side made their first incursion into home territory but within two minutes they went ahead. A line out in the 22 was disrupted which led to a scrappy build-up. Owen Rookyard provided the half break to feed Sam Lloyd who stretched over the line for a try. His conversion attempt came back off a post.
Lloyd had better luck ten minutes later. Solid defence kept Willenhall pinned in their own half and when they infringed he struck a fine penalty over from 35 metres for 8-0.
Brett Taylor’s kick deep into the home 22 had the hosts’ defence in trouble on 32 minutes. An attempted clearance kick was deflected into midfield where Owen Rookyard reacted quickly to chip behind the last line of defenders. The ball bounced his way to allow him to touch down. Lloyd converted and Burntwood found themselves 15 points up despite having spent much of the game defending.
It should have been a bigger margin just before the break following a scrum turnover. Luke Rookyard burst away to feed the backs and Ben Holt was sent clear but, facing a two on one against the full back, his try-scoring pass to Tom O’Brien was adjudged forward.
Despite this setback, Burntwood remained on top for the opening ten minutes of the second period, harrying the hosts into errors inside their own 22.
Lloyd had two chances to extend the lead with penalty attempts on 43 and 52 minutes, one of which cost Willenhall a player to the sin bin, but both kicks slipped wide of the posts.
With an hour gone the tide turned as Burntwood began to concede penalties and territory and the hosts beefed up their already big pack of forwards. Valiant defence kept the hosts out as time and time again they tried to drive over from close range.
Finally, on 68 minutes, Willenhall moved the ball wide from a scrum five to set up a ruck. The scrum half nipped through a gap to score under the posts for a converted try.
Within two minutes the home side drove downfield again in determined fashion. A blatant forward pass was missed by the otherwise excellent match official and the move ended with the left winger racing down the narrow side and over the line for a try. Game on.
Although the momentum seemed to be with the home team, they made errors at key moments in the time remaining which allowed Burntwood to clear any danger. A great clearance kick by Taylor allowed his side to retain possession , including a 20 metre drive from a line out, to play out the time remaining and seal the win.
On a good day for the club there were two merit table wins in fixtures at the Sportsway. The 2nd XV beat Willenhall 2nds 29-14 and the 3rd XV took to the field for the first time this season and beat Rugeley 2nds 12-6.
This Saturday (September 17) Burntwood make the short trip to Cannock for their second league game. The 2nd XV host Leek 2nds and the 3rds travel to play Newcastle (Staffs) 3rds.