Missed opportunities contribute to Manors defeat
Manor welcomed Letchworth to the New Wilderness with their visitors finding themselves in the unusual position of fighting relegation. The match between the two sides earlier in the season had seen Manor come away victorious, but it was a close game and the same was expected this week.
Manor kicked off and immediately put their opposition under pressure as Luigi Martelletti competed in the air for the ball managing to knock it backwards to his supporting forwards who drove the ball towards Letchworth’s 22 with George Cosma and Jack Sullivan punching holes in the visitors defence, the ball was then moved out wide to Reece Reed on the wing, he rounded the first defender but was then taken into touch 8 meters short of the line.
Manor continued to keep Letchworth pinned inside their half with some strong running from centres Nick Sheppard and Chris Smith, who then combined with fullback Elliott Brown who made ground along the touchline before being bundled into touch. Manor stole the throw in setting up a maul before releasing their backline, Sheppard again proved hard to stop as he drove towards the line, when he was eventually stopped he stayed on his feet long enough to feed the supporting Rory Moore, but with the try line beckoning and a certain try Moore spilled the ball forward allowing Letchworth to clear the danger.
The visitors were finding things difficult and it wasn’t until ten minutes had been played that they launched their first real attack. From a scrum on the hallway their backline made good ground through the middle followed by a chip ahead into Manors 22, Reed was covering but his clearance only took the ball out of play just outside Manors 22. From the resulting lineout Letchworth set up a driving maul, but Manor were up to the task turning the ball over allowing Callum Mckie to clear the danger. Letchworth again attacked keeping Manor pinned inside their 22, but aggressive defence saw the ball again turned over allowing Manor to launch a counter attack which saw forwards and backs link well taking play into Letchworth’s half where the home side were awarded a penalty. Nick Horton kicked to touch for an attacking lineout 8 meters from Letchworth’s line. With the throw in secured Manor set up a driving maul but were penalised for driving into their own man, this allowed Letchworth to clear the danger from the subsequent scrum after 18 minutes.
The game was scrappy with both sides guilty of poor handling bringing to an early end any positive attacks.
Manor were still on top and looking the most threatening of the two sides, again Reed looked to attack taking the ball close to Letchworth’s 22 before kicking the ball in behind the defence winning a lineout. Tom O’Connor caught the throw in and Manor set up a maul that slowly made its way towards the Letchworth line, but when the maul was brought down by the defending team, the ref failed to give a penalty but instead gave a scrum to the visitors.
Letchworth again had a period of possession but Manor won the ball back when they stole a lineout allowing McKie to take the ball on breaking a couple of tackles before the forwards took on the attack, when a ruck was set up McKie again got his hands on the ball and put in an excellent cross field kick which Reed chased and went to catch the ball unopposed with a clear run in, but unusually for him, his hands let him down and he knocked the ball on, again Manor had spurned a scoring opportunity as the clock moved on to 30 minutes of play.
Manor continued to keep up the pressure winning a couple of penalties which they chose to kick for lineouts. Then as the attacks gained momentum, Manor knocked the ball on allowing Letchworth to again clear the danger.
As the half came towards a close Manor at last made their pressure tell when after good work from Martelletti and Smith, Manor won a lineout 15 meters from Letchworth’s line. With Moore securing the throw in, Manor set up a maul before Sullivan broke from the rear and powered his way forward before feeding the on rushing Sheppard who was stopped just short of the line but he was able to pop the ball to the supporting Matt Oaks who drove over the line for Manors first score. McKie converted the try and after 35 minutes Manor led 7 – 0.
With the half coming to a close, Letchworth attacked Manor with renewed vigour, but solid defence from Manors midfield repelled the danger, then from turnover ball McKie set up a fast moving counter attack which saw the ball pass through a number of hands as Sheppard, Sullivan and Horton all made ground then from a ruck inside the visitors 22 Manor moved the ball quickly along the line creating an overlap out wide where Smith was unmarked but the final pass was again poor and with a free run to the line beckoning Smith could not hold onto the misplaced pass, yet another scoring opportunity had gone begging. With the subsequent scrum being the last play of the half the ref blew for half time with Manor 7 – 0 up, but in reality, they should have had another two or three scores.
With Letchworth kicking off the second half they started the better of the two sides and soon put pressure on Manor. Whilst Manor defended well their game plan was soon severely disrupted when within moments of each other first McKie then Smith suffered nasty head injuries which held up play for a number of minutes. With both players having to leave the field Manor brought on debutant Rhodri Charles and flanker Chris Vickers who had to fill in on the wing as Manor reorganised their backline.
This disrupted Manors defence and it wasn’t long before Letchworth took advantage of it. They had a period of sustained pressure inside Manors 22 and whilst Manor defended well, their defence was being stretch and not re-aligning as quickly as usual. Letchworth retained possession well and when the opportunity came their fly half darted through a gap and went behind the posts for a seven point score. With 10 minutes of the second half gone the scores were now level at 7 – 7.
Manor hit back at Letchworth and took play to their 22 but couldn’t break through the visitors defence. After being bandage up Smith re joined the match.
Letchworth now had the upper hand and were playing like a team trying to secure their league status. They were quicker to the breakdown and varied their attack, causing problems for Manors defence. After a succession of forward drives the ball was kicked in behind Manors defensive line, this was not dealt with effectively allowing Letchworth to turn the ball over and move it quickly out wide where they went in at the corner for their second try. With the difficult conversion successful Letchworth had taken the lead for the first time 7 – 14 after 18 minutes.
Manor tried to hit back from the re-start and gained good territory aided by a penalty infringement by Letchworth. Manor kicked to touch and from the lineout drove towards the line but when the maul broke up another knock on gave the advantage back to Letchworth who cleared their lines from the awarded scrum.
Both sides now had their fair share of possession and territory and Manor launched one excellent attack that began inside their 22 when Brown chose to run the ball from deep and took play into Letchworth’s half before linking up with his forwards, but again poor handling let the home side down bring a halt to the promising attack.
Letchworth were still giving away a number of penalties which allowed Manor to kick for territory taking play to just outside Letchworth’s 22. With O’Connor winning the lineout Manor drove the ball slowly forward until it was fed out to Sheppard who again proved difficult to stop, after making ground he fed the ball to the supporting Cosma who set up a ruck allowing quick ball to be fed along the line to Smith out wide, he then had the power to drive through a couple of attempted tackles and dive over the line. With the difficult conversion missed Manor were right back in the match at 12 -14 with under 10 minutes left to play.
The score seemed to bring Letchworth back to life and they hounded Manor from the kick off eventually turning the ball over, they then set up a series of powerful drives taking play inside Manors 22, here from a ruck they secured quick ball and spun it along the line outflanking Manors retreating defence to score in the corner. Again the difficult conversion was successfully taken and Letchworth had extended their lead to 12 – 19 with 5 minutes left to play.
With time running out, Letchworth kept the pressure on Manor, not letting them out of their half and saw the clock down for an important victory.
Manor knew that they should have put the game out of Letchworth’s reach by half time, but they didn’t and the visitors had the better of the second half and wanted the victory more. Manor have not become bad players but they have lost the confidence that winning installs in you. With a difficult away fixture next week at Thurrock Manor know that they are capable of getting a result, but they are going to have to earn it.