After Saints’ breathless victory at Leigh to maintain their 100% league record, they hosted Birkenhead Park at Eastham Pavilion on Saturday 6 November for an intriguing quarter-final Cheshire Cup match.
Anselmians have encountered Birkenhead Park twice in the leagues and a few more times in the Cheshire Cup but have never come out on top. Park are sitting comfortably in third position in the North 1 West league and Saints are leading the North 2 West table, unbeaten after 8 fixtures.
So, for the home supporters, this weekend’s contest was considered to be a benchmark of how Anselmians might fare if they were to gain promotion to the higher level. If they were able to compete well against today’s opponents, they may just be able to sustain a challenge at the next level.
Predictably, this game started with Birkenhead Park attacking aggressively with a powerful rucking game which kept Saints pegged to their line for the first 15 minutes, always threatening to breakthrough.
But Saints defence was resolute and remained intact to restrict Park’s dominance to just 3 points for an offside penalty at another Park ruck. Park had opted not to convert three earlier penalties maybe thinking they could outpower the Saints pack, but each time the Saints front row of the Salisbury brothers and Brookes drove them backwards leaving Park with no options
Saints now started to get into the game and as they grew in confidence, they eschewed their own simple penalty opportunity in favour of a lineout which they drove over for Steve Brooks to score in the corner. Morley converted.
Saints forwards were now overpowering Park in the set pieces and the backs were making progress with strong surges by centres Otutaha and Banks. Park conceded a penalty on the 22 which was an easy task for Morley to convert on 35 minutes.
With the score now at 10-3, Saints supporters were comfortable with this for a half-time score at 40 minutes but 2 minutes into extra time some slick passing in the backs got Paul Sellwood across the whitewash for the first of a hat-trick of tries. Morley added the extras.
For the first 20 minutes of the second period, Saint’s confidence continued to grow and, on the front foot, they seemed to be fitter than their opponents. The home attack began to create holes in Park’s defence and skilful passing interchanges created two more tries for Sellwood and one for Banks, all but putting this contest beyond Park’s reach at 32-3.
However, Park rallied well and pressed hard to narrow the gap with a formidable onslaught on the home line. But Saints’ defence held firm even though it sometimes took last-ditch tackles to keep Park at bay. Saints defence was solid in the last 10 mins under relentless Park pressure, they came within inches but were unable to cross the line for a score
This was an historic and well-earned victory for Anselmians of which the team and supporters will be justly proud. It was also a hugely entertaining display of wholehearted commitment by both teams which will have delighted the crowd of close to 1,000 rugby supporters from all around Wirral.
Anselmians’ Cheshire Cup Semi-final opponent will be either Wirral rugby club or Macclesfield.
Anselmians 1st XV’s next game is at home at Eastham Pavillion on Saturday 20 November 2021 v St Benedict’s from Cumbria for a 2.15pm kick-off.
Image credit: Derek Salisbury SNR