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Having not played a game since November, the Lancaster Lynx returned to the field to open their cup campaign against the University of Sheffield. With both sides having won their respective leagues, the fixture was highly relished by the travelling side who after a relatively easy league campaign were desperate for a challenge.
In a pulsating match, Sheffield proved the stronger of the two teams, despite a humble and spirited performance from the Lynx. Tries from Andy Muir, Neil Kilgallon and Nathan O’ Connor, were not enough to keep Sheffield at bay as their tactic of driving the ball up the middle of the field in the hands of strong runners, paid dividends.
The opening stages of the match seemed to swing the way of Sheffield, as a last ditch tackle by Lynx fullback Matthew Buckland kept the home side from opening the scoring.
Lynx responded with a threatening set of their own, after a fantastic break by Mike Gibson brought them within touching distance of the try line. Some poor handling by the men in red and black meant they failed to threaten the strong Sheffield defensive line until the referee spotted a Sheffield man offside gifting Lancaster a penalty set. This time, they took their chances with Andy Muir crossing over on the far side to open the scoring. Kicker Nathan O’ Connor stepped up to add the two points.
A knock on by prop Adam Lacey at the restart gave Sheffield an attacking scrum in a dangerous position which the home side were quick to capitalize on. A great line saw the home side slice through the Lynx defence to cancel out the away sides earlier efforts and to bring the score to 6-6 with twenty minutes gone.
Lancaster proved to be far from disheartened by this response, and forced Sheffield to play catch up once more when a great break by man of the match Gareth Houghton took play up to Sheffield’s try line. Some neat handling of the ball saw Mike Gibson find Neil Kilgallon off his shoulder who touched down for the four points. Unfortunately, kicker O’ Connor could not convert.
A silly Lynx error meant they were unable to sustain their lead going into half time when Sheffield capitalized on another penalty set. Missed tackles cost the Lynx dearly as a rather hefty looking Sheffield runner broke through the line on the first play of the ball to touch down. The conversion was added to give the home side a two point lead at the break in a game that looked to be anyone’s for the taking.
A series of handling errors marred the opening of the second half before another great line break from Sheffield’s enigmatic loose forward, forced another try tackling save from Matthew Buckland who proved time and time again that he was more than a match for Sheffield’s thirteen.
A lazy pass by Captain Max Brown which found touch instead of its intended target, made one begin to wonder if the wheels were starting to come off the Lynx wagon. Things began to look even more worrying when Sheffield’s loose forward sneaked through on the wing from a distance out to bring the score to 16-10 with the conversion missed.
There was still a feeling that the away side were not out of the game yet. But their hopes were dashed even further when an awkward bounce of the ball behind the try line duped fullback Buckland and found Sheffield hands. One really had to feel for Buckland who had experienced an outstanding game.
If ever Lynx needed a try, now was the time and in the face of a game that was slowly beginning to slip away from them, Nathan O Connor stepped up to the plate. A keen interception saw O Connor dart for the line and wrestle the ball to the ground in spite of fearsome opposition. Unfortunately, he could not add the vital two points that the Lynx needed to close the gap to a converted try.
The away side kept up the pressure when a break down the wing by Andy Muir forced a penalty set after a Sheffield flop. However, a great attacking chance was squandered in a moment of madness from Jon Foulds as he opted to kick the ball away rather than keep it in Lynx hands.
Despite repelling an attack from the ever dangerous Sheffield thirteen after another classic Buckland takedown, the game began to turn in favour of Sheffield as an uncharacteristic knock on by the ever reliant Mike Gibson gifted Sheffield possession.
Lynx knew that one more Sheffield try would finish them off, and unfortunately for them, the ill fated moment came when Sheffield capitalized on a good period of pressure to steal the game.
The battered spirit of the team was epitomized by the face of Buckland which poured with blood after he sustained an injury to his upper lip. Unfortunately, the injury marked the end of his contribution to the game as he left the field for treatment.
Despite a late sin binning for Sheffield and another promising period in attack, the home side simply could not find its way through the well drilled Sheffield defence. The home side had however began to show a marked increased in their inventiveness with ball in hand, as the likelihood of winning the game faded.
The referee blew the whistle for a final score of Sheffield 26-14 Lynx.
While the away side will be devastated to exit the cup at such an early stage, they can take many positives from the game, chiefly the fact that there can be no doubt that every member of the team gave the game their utmost effort.
At first glance, Sheffield may have looked like the physically superior team yet Lancaster matched them blow for blow. Hooker Pete Gatenby had a fantastic game putting in some vital tackles from marker. Likewise, it is possible that Sheffield could have scored even more had it not been for the try saving tackles from Buckland.
Sheffield chose Gareth Houghton as the Lynx man of the match and there can be little doubt why. Houghton put in a sterling effort throughout the game as the cornerstone of the Lynx defence. He also demonstrated great strength in his ball carrying, gaining Lancaster those extra few yards on numerous occasions.
Match rustiness was always on the cards considering the fact they had not played a game since November, yet considering their performance, no onlooker could ever have guessed this. Though there is no chance that their name will be on the cup this year, the Lynx can finish the season knowing that they are still league champions two years running, and knowing that when presented with a real challenge they undoubtedly rose to the mark.