Eden save their best until last
UPPER Eden put in a magnificent performance at Keswick on Tuesday to defeat a good Aspatria side and lift the Cumbria Plate their first silverware for a long time.
The game was played at a high intensity throughout and the scene was set straight from the kick-off when a crunching tackle by David Birkbeck left the ball catcher, Aspatria’s captain Andrew Miller, on the ground for a while.
It was all Upper Eden in the opening spell as they tore into their opponents, and it was no surprise when skipper Matt Allinson put the first points on the board with a well struck penalty goal.
Eden remained on the front foot, dominating possession and territory, and during a prolonged assault close to the Aspatria goal-line, they were twice denied what looked like legitimate tries.
Johnny Whitehead’s touch-down from a forward drive was deemed uncertain and the referee actually awarded a try when John Blue went over, but after consultation with a touch judge, Allinson’s final pass to Blue was judged to have been forward.
At last Aspatria got their hands on the ball and mounted their first attack of the game. A penalty to touch and a five-metre lineout were followed by a series of forward drives which brought them a converted try and a 7-3 lead.
Undaunted, Eden came straight back and cut the deficit to a single point with another Allinson penalty goal after the opposing forwards had infringed at the breakdown.
Aspatria were beginning to find their feet and missed a long range penalty attempt, but Eden countered from the 22 drop out with a huge rolling maul which took them a long way downfield. A penalty ensued and Allinson’s superb long distance kick restored his side’s lead.
The ding-dong battle continued with no quarter given by either side, though Eden number seven Paul Alderson earned his customary yellow card for some monkey business at the breakdown.
At this stage Aspatria were dominating possession, but superb tackling and counter rucking by Eden stifled their dangerous back division and disrupted their continuity.
Eventually, the Kirkby Stephen side threatened again with a good break from halfway, only to lose possession in front of the posts, but pressure was maintained and several times players were held just short of the line.
On the stroke of half-time Allinson’s difficult penalty attempt passed narrowly wide and the score remained 9-7 after a fast paced 40 minutes.
Aspatria attacked straight from the restart, but Eden again defended well and they were unlucky to be penalised in front of their own posts, surrendering the lead again when the kick went over.
The experienced Colin Wolstenholme was now in the fray on the back row as Eden launched a great combined attack through the midfield which took them close to their opponents’ try line where several drives were held at the death.
With the referee signalling penalty advantage they continued to recycle the ball until eventually No. 8 Birkbeck forced his way over from close range for a trademark try which went unconverted.
Lapses in discipline then cost Eden two penalties, the second of which resulted in a well hit 40-metre kick, which reduced their lead to a single point.
Shortly after, Birkbeck was astonishingly given a yellow card for what seemed like a perfectly fair steal in the tackle, and having already lost forwards Whitehead and Andrew Stubbs and centre Phil Sinclair to injury, things did not look good for Upper Eden.
Sinclair’s loss had prompted a reshuffle of their back division, Simon Alderson coming on at scrum half, his brother Ben moving out to stand off and Allinson to centre.
Although still a man down, Eden’s substitutes, who also included Will Wilson, Simon Winder and utility hard man Matt Dent, fitted in seamlessly and a series of forward drives gained good ground down the middle. The ball was swiftly moved along the backs and Dan Todd’s perfectly timed final pass found full back Alex Darroch on the overlap, and he dived over in the corner for a crucial try which again went unconverted.
Aspatria hit back immediately and turned down a simple penalty shot at goal, instead going for touch, but from the lineout the ensuing forward drive was disrupted by a determined Eden defence, led, among others, by an increasingly influential Dean Dent.
Eden’s injury problems continued to mount when Allinson limped off, but he was soon back on the pitch along with Birkbeck, Paul Alderson, Stubbs and a heavily bandaged Whitehead.
After another spell of Aspatria possession had been dealt with, Eden broke strongly down the right, but knocked on with the try line wide open.
Shortly after, they blew another golden opportunity to seal the game when Todd crossed under the posts, but lost the ball as he tried to ground it.
Aspatria launched a final counter straight from the drop out with nearly 10 minutes to go and a spell of intense pressure ensued, mostly within the Eden 10-metre zone.
Tension mounted as Aspatria tried every trick in the book, but Eden defended ferociously. Their forwards held and disrupted five-metre lineouts, mauls, drives and tap penalties while superb first-time tackling behind the scrum deprived the Aspatria backs of any continuity or penetration.
Among all this Ben Alderson was harshly yellow carded for alleged offside, but Eden held on resolutely until their tiring opponents ran out of options and an attempted chip over the defence went dead.
The 22 drop out cleared their line just before the final whistle and Upper Eden had deservedly won an epic game of rugby against strong and skilful opposition. They had certainly saved their season’s best until last which made it a night to remember both for the team and the large number of supporters who had made the journey to Keswick.
Coach Mike Robinson’s choice of man of the match was second row Dean Dent for outstanding work up front in both set and loose play, though in fairness every team member, including substitutes, gave their all and deserve the highest praise for a great team performance.
Thanks were given to host club Keswick for their hospitality, including the provision of an excellent pitch and floodlight system.