Birkenhead Park 17-24 Northwich

WHERE to start?

Northwich had one hand on the Cheshire RFU Vase after 70 minutes, protecting a 17-3 interval lead.

However their grip on the silverware loosened considerably, and quickly too, after they conceded two tries that levelled the score.

Backed into a corner, quite literally by opponents who had kicked the ball there repeatedly during the second-half, they needed to find a way out.

That they did, and in the nick of time after Richard Dale gleefully caught Nick Baldwin’s perfectly-executed chip, ensured a thrilling – and by now trademark – finish for Martin Poste’s men in the sunshine at New Brighton.

Blacks’ director of rugby predicted beforehand a clash of styles, and his side’s victory was one of flair over function.

That said, a margin between these two teams is so narrow as to be almost indistinguishable.

And yet a purple patch during the opening period nearly put Northwich out of their rivals’ reach.

They had traded early penalties, Baldwin putting the game’s first points on the board after five minutes, before beginning an arm wrestle in midfield.

It lasted for what felt like forever.

Park had more possession, but did little of note with it, while Blacks concentrated their effort into not committing errors in defence that risked inviting pressure from set-pieces.

That stalemate ended when Scott Davidson plotted a route to the line following an attacking scrum, and Baldwin added the extras.

From the restart Northwich set in motion the best move of the match.

Northwich Guardian:

Northwich celebrated a fourth Cheshire RFU Vase final victory after seeing off North One West rivals Birkenhead Park at New Brighton on Saturday

It included another decisive contribution from Davidson, who carried deep into opposition territory before his teammates swept the recycled ball swiftly to the left flank.

Bud Skinkis summoned fellow wing Robin Houghton in off the touchline, an invitation he accepted to apply the smoothest of finishes.

It was a stark reminder to Park's players of what can happen should they lose control.

“Listen, we can’t play loose,” said one behind the posts as Baldwin’s kick sailed between them.

His teammates heard loud and clear.

They dominated possession after the turnaround, which they started with a numerical advantage after Baldwin was sent to the sin bin shortly before half-time.

Matt Ensor joined him there not long after it but Park, beneficiaries too from a rising high penalty count as Northwich erred under prolonged examination, could not profit.

It was no fun to watch, and half-an-hour passed without the scoreboard operator pressing a button.

Park repeatedly turned down an opportunity to kick for goal, instead seeking to drive over from a lineout, every time referee Ben Moore blew his whistle.

It was a tactic that brought with it the dividend of a penalty try, followed five minutes later by a converted one, as the clock ticked down.

They would have been favourites to further grind down a tired defence in extra time, and one or two minds perhaps drifted to contemplate as much before Dale, inspired by Baldwin’s improvisation, denied them that chance.

Northwich | Maddocks, James, Ridgway, Heywood, Clark, Naylor, Williams, Ensor, Poste, Baldwin, Skinkis, Davidson, Richard Dale, Houghton, Barber Replacements Bradshaw, Bennett, Lapniewski, Burmah, Balshaw, Fray, Husband Tries Davidson, Houghton, Richard Dale Cons Baldwin (3) Pen Baldwin