Date published: October 06, 2022
Photo: Bruce Myers
OConnell makes the big hit
Rochdale traveled to Caldy on the Wirral Peninsula on Sunday October 2 for a league game and expected another hard-fought encounter.
On a perfect day for open ground rugby, both teams went about their business from the start. Rochdale were playing in the strong breeze and were stuck in their own half for long stretches, but when they got away they created chances and put the home team under pressure with a fast ruck ball and a strong run from the backfield.
Rochdale scored first after some good forward shots led by Olly Mills, Garrett Myers and Jacob Jackson. The ball was transferred quickly to the left where Ben Haigh drew in the defender and put Ben Kershaw through the gap. Kershaw ignored a few potential tacklers and sprinted from 20m (0-5).
Rochdale couldn’t clear his lines from the restart and Caldy applied the pressure again. Their attacking group was starting to take over in the scrums and that was giving the backs a lot of the ball. With the scrum dominating, Caldy’s first line of attack was to try and break through the Rochdale pack. After a succession of line attacks were repelled by the Rochdale attackers, Caldy finally crossed the line with a movement from the back that placed his cross under the post (7-5).
Caldy was immediately back on the attack and again tried to break through the visiting peloton. Rochdale put in a massive defensive effort down his own line which resulted in a crucial turnover. From this phase, Rochdale went on the attack, moving the ball on his own goal line until Haigh made the break. Again he drew in the defender and put Kershaw in space as he crossed the halfway line. Kershaw chipped the back, passed several challengers, before collecting and accelerating to score near the posts for the final play of the first half (7-12) and a big boost for Rochdale.
Myers grabbed the restart and beat a few defenders, unloading on Mills who made ground before unloading on Jackson. Jackson crossed but was dragged a few yards from the line. Rochdale received a penalty and tried to play through the forwards. However, Caldy’s defense was solid and they were able to regroup and neutralize the attack.
Caldy was able to control the game again thanks to his attackers and the clever management of the game by his number 10 kept them in the right areas of the field, allowing them to close the gap with a penalty (10-12).
Caldy’s collective dominance began to provide a penalty reserve and eventually Rochdale was reduced to 14 players after a yellow card for persistent infractions. This proved crucial as, on the next lineout, Caldy made the extra forward count and pushed Rochdale down his own line to register his second down (15-12).
Rochdale should have used the breeze in the second half to get out of his own half but persisted with open rugby. Caldy, having taken the lead, was content to wait out mistakes from the visitors and capitalize on the conceded position on the pitch. This resulted in constant pressure from Rochdale and, although they kept their line intact, Caldy took advantage of their opener’s boot which converted a few more penalties to put Caldy to safety (21-12).
Rochdale continued the fight and had a few more scoring opportunities, but Caldy’s defense was up to the challenge and the match ended 21-12. This is top league hard-nosed rugby and Rochdale may need to spin the scoreboard and take the points offered by enforceable penalties.
There were strong performances across the board, especially from Zac Baker who was sharp at scrum-half and Ben Sunderland who stood out against a dominating pack. The man of the match went to Mills whose direct running and aggressive defense provided Rochdale with plenty of momentum during breakdowns.