Tue 09 May 2017 12:35


Tony Wilson-Spratt

A crowd of 600+ loud and partisan spectators at Port-e-Chee saw Old Mutual Douglas claim the spoils in dramatic fashion to advance to North One West in the national leagues, although the denouement was as unlikely given initial Douglas dominance as it was ultimately thrilling for the home support. The first half with a breeze behind Douglas and a dominant scrummage looked ominous for De La Salle, even more so when their fly-half Wheeler was sidelined by injury after just 10 minutes. Huge pressure from the Douglas scrum had De La Salle number 8 Berry picking up on the retreat, occasionally almost at a trot as the visitors scrum ceded weight and power. Hoddinnot, Markl-Ferns and Hooson-Owen ruled the front-row roost, but out wide Douglas were getting little change out of a highly efficient De La Salle defence marshalled by Evans and McCormick. Snellgrove has a long range boot anyway but out of hand and with the breeze he hooked up several monsters to keep De La Salle pinned back. Stephens followed up one such punt and De La Salle winger Rob Foxton took a wildly optimistic decision to run back from his own goal line - meat and drink to as wily an operator as Stephens, who cut Foxton down in the shadow of his own posts. Several scrums later, a penalty pinned to the corner, and Singer thundered over from close range after 20 minutes with three defenders bludgeoned aside. Although the scrummage advantage continued, Douglas experienced several line-out hiccups, and understandable nerves kept Douglas at bay while a hungry De La Salle defence was proving increasingly influential. It was apparent Douglas were not quite the irresistible force they can be, with dangerous Douglas winger Wood being kept under lock and key, and De La Salle were growing in stature as the clock ticked on at 0-7. It took a typical Lance Wyllie scoring surge after half an hour and a Snellgrove penalty a little later for 15-0, but as the half ended and the flags fluttered no less strongly, a 15-point margin felt a little thin.
Defences ruled and for 20 minutes neither team could make scoring headway. Evans, Wyllie and Killey as a back-row team were ruthless for Douglas, but opposite numbers Watson, Worthy and Berry were unbowed and making the breakdown a hotly contested area. Douglas winger Boyd was marshalled into touch when a score seemed likely, then Murray broke only to be swallowed up by covering De La Salle winger Watson. Kirkpatrick and Todd were introduced off the Douglas bench for fresh impetus, but a potentially harmless kick ahead from winger Foxton after 30 minutes took a kindly bounce on the firm ground, and allied to hesitation from Douglas full-back Hyland, the De La Salle winger put boot to ball a second time. As the ball headed toward the Douglas goal line, a three horse race developed that the referee correctly decided ended with unfair contact as Foxton was bundled off the ball when he was likely to have scored. The penalty try and 15-7 dramatically altered the scenario, and although Douglas could not be accused of sitting on a lead, De La Salle had that intoxicating whiff of success that fills lungs and strengthens limbs. Hughes and Petrou in the De La Salle second-row were suddenly making themselves a real nuisance in the loose, and Riley at scrum-half was only held up and prevented from scoring after he crossed the Douglas line. A half break later and De La Salle centre McCormick powered through a despairing Douglas defence for Petrou to knock over the conversion and 15-14. The wind was now in De La Salle sails and with 7 minutes remaining both sets of supporters were in full voice as the culmination of an entire league season hung in the balance. Hooson-Owen with thunderous hits, Shaun Wyllie familiar with every blade of Port-e-Chee grass, and the diminutive Stephens lumberjack-like as he relished toppling taller timber were the essence of Douglas success. As the referee indicated the last play of the match, it was aptly the popular Douglas player coach Murray who belted the ball towards the packed grandstand ranks to instigate deserved celebrations.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for the Salford team, and their attitude as they stood and applauded the Manx team after the whistle was first class. Making President Eric Clarke and travelling officials and supporters welcome was never a hardship, and credit to De La Salle who were generous in such close defeat.

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