THE NORTHWICH RUFC COLUMN - By John Blower

WITH the holiday break and no action until the visit to Burnage on January 4, it’s a good time to reflect on the Blacks’ performance in the first half of the season.

In the opening fixture in the Cheshire Vase at Sandbach, Northwich threw everything at their opponents but fell 25-11.

Despite the disappointment of leaving the competition Northwich took heart from the performance, playing against opposition from a higher league, they were competitive if not cohesive.

The league campaign began with Northwich facing three away games during September, starting at Birkenhead Park where conditions were ideal for rugby.

The fall-out from the previous week’s encounter with Sandbach gave director of rugby Martin Poste some headaches.

Tom Clarke and James Wood both suffered long-term injuries at Sandbach and were added to the growing list of absentees, which included Baldwin, James, Davidson, Houghton and Chris Bradshaw.

With the match drawing to a close the Blacks showed real character and Richard Dale forced himself over the line to secure a well deserved bonus point in a 34-20 loss.

The Blacks welcomed Burnage for their first home fixture of the season.

Burnage have provided the stiffest of contests in resent years. This proved to be the case again as the match went down to the wire leaving the supporters breathless.

The remaining minutes were nailbiting as both teams were reduced in number with yellow cards. However, Northwich hung on to win and send the faithful happily into the clubhouse rejoicing a 24-20 success.

A loss at Wilmslow followed by victory at Altrincham Kersal once again gave insight into the competitive nature of the North One West league structure.

Despite a good result with some great individual performances including a promising debut from Tom Wood and a great return from Chris James and Chris Heywood against Warrington, Poste was still looking to improve some areas of the Northwich game.

A home victory over Bowdon followed before the weather took a turn for the worse.

With so much rain during the week the match with Firwood Waterloo at Moss Farm was in doubt.

However, the pitch, although heavy was fit to play.

Poste had to do without Dale, Matt Poste, Phil Williams and Shaun Burmah but was able to call on Aaron Collins to strengthen the bench.

With little to chose between the two sides this contest had all the hallmarks of a classic.

It turned out to be a disappointment in terms of running rugby as both teams slogged it out in what was an arm wrestle for the entire 80 minutes.

Postie was obviously delighted with the outcome 16-12 but knew the lads would need to improve significantly if they are to progress up the table.

Northwich went on to enjoy an afternoon in the Cumbrian sunshine and their biggest win margin so far this season 12-52.

This was the first visit to Keswick for the Blacks, who were able to run in eight tries against a very young and enthusiastic outfit.

The result brought an unbeaten October for the Blacks and set up a run of five wins.

With Moss Farm waterlogged in early November the fixture was reversed and the Blacks had to travel to Stockport in order to fulfil the fixture.

Poste then discovered that Mike Gough was unavailable and that Chris James wouldn’t be able to get to Stockport in time for the kick off, and that Barber would be missing for some time due to a knee injury, although on the bright side he was able to welcome Dale back to the fold.

This was a bad day for the Blacks who lost a match that was clearly influenced by the number of penalties conceded.

However the month ended well for Northwich with wins at Penrith and at home against Broughton Park.

Into December and Douglas were defeated in a tight contest as Northwich confirmed their status as a bogey team for the Isle of Man outfit with a 17-6 win at Port-e-Chee.

Northwich finished the first half of the campaign with a hard-fought one-point victory over Vale of Lune, moving them up to third position going into 2020.

Poste was pleased with the overall results and will be looking to take full advantage of the break to get the boys ready for the difficult trip to Burnage on January 4.

All-in-all, our improving performance is encouraging and, after the three-week lay-off for the Christmas and new year holidays, the players will be looking forward to 2020 to continue providing us with more entertaining rugby.