World Cup break gives Vale chance to prepare

Sam Wallbank has impressed so far this season.
Sam Wallbank has impressed so far this season.

The final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup caused the suspension of many Saturday league fixtures, and while some clubs and players welcomed the break, others were left kicking their heels and chomping at the bit.

For the Vale of Lune, the pause in proceedings provided the opportunity to assess their season so far, draw up plans and tactics for the future, and, importantly, give their injured players more recuperation time ahead of what could be a couple of critical months.

Vale enter November in seventh place in North One West with three victories from their eight games. Last season, at a comparable stage, the Vale had won four and lost four, but were still in seventh place.

Injuries have impinged on Vale’s season, beginning with the news that prop James Hesketh would miss the whole campaign, following a summer cycling accident.

Flanker Alex Baines was injured in the third game against Kirkby Lonsdale and has not played since.

The previous week, scrum half Ollie Dobson limped off at Mint Bridge, while lock Ben Charnley has only played one game with a nagging ankle injury.

In addition, the departures of Oliver Carter, Rob Lamberton and Chris Weeks at the end of last season left gaps to fill in the threequarters.

On the positive side, the versatile Andy Powers returned from injury, Jonty Higgin came back into the squad because his career has brought home closer to home, and in the backs, the experienced Ian Bird and Fergus Owens have featured 
prominently. A completely new second row pairing was forged from two players normally plying their trade in the back row, both Tom Cvijanovic and Joe Wallbank making their full debuts in the away game at Warrington.

Overall the forwards have performed admirably, the front row, whatever combination has been employed, have enjoyed parity, while in the back row, Jack Ayton’s and Sam Wallbank’s collective work rate has been most impressive.

Outside the pack there has been an agonising search for an ideal blend of threequarters, not quite square pegs being inserted into round holes, more a case of the subtle use of a chisel and sandpaper.

The names have remained the same, but the allocated shirt numbers have varied from week to week.

The fulcrum of a rugby team is to be found at half back, and in Vale’s eight games there have been six different duos in action.

In a variation on this particular theme, there have been five scrum halves, Billy Swarbrick, Ollie Dobson, Charlie Lomas, Andy Powers and Ben Dorrington. There have been three fly halves, Adam Macluskie, Fergus Owens and Ben Dorrington.

Facing a quartet of testing games in September, the fact the Vale had played no warm up games hardly inspired confidence, but they opened by hitting a high five pointer at home against Penrith with a 41-31 victory.

Over at Kendal the following week, the cupboard remained bare until the 
closing minute when Ben Dorrington’s successful penalty ensure the Vale did not return from Mint Bridge empty handed in a 34-3 defeat.

At home to Kirkby Lonsdale, a losing bonus point was gained in a 19-13 loss after the Vale had promised a great deal in the first half, but were unable to deliver the goods.

North One West pacesetters Warrington inflicted on the Vale a 45-23 defeat at ‘The Fortress,’ the heaviest in the history in the meetings between the two clubs.

New coach Dan Williams, who had taken over from Fergus Owens, oversaw a 51-0 home win against Eccles, but a week later the Vale lost at newly-promoted Altrincham Kersal, 38-24, despite winning the second half, 
24-8.

Wilmslow’s high-stepping threequarters wreaked havoc in a 45-22 victory at The Lane, but a long saga of away defeats, stretching back to February, ended at Blackburn with a 30-21 win to complete two taxing months.

The Rugby World Cup 2015 has now been and gone, the post mortems can begin from an English perspective, after all Japan is only four years away, but there are more pressing matters for the Vale to ponder as a sense of normality returns.

Looking ahead, the Vale resume their campaign with two home games, beginning on Saturday against 13th in the league Leigh, who are without a win. This fixture will be followed by a visit from long standing rivals Broughton Park, whose only victory so far was at Leigh.

These two fixtures must fall into the category of must-win games, because the Vale’s final game in November is away at Rochdale, where in the last four visits to Moorgate Avenue, the Vale have drawn one, 20-20, in December 2011, and lost three.