Last Saturday's rugby matches were against Stonyhurst College.
With yet another two late changes, the side required a little re-jigging as they travelled away to Stonyhurst College. The home pack showed their intentions early on, with a series of rolling mauls and driving close to the breakdown, but as Arnold got used to the pace of the game, the defence was solid and they began to assert their authority on the game. Jacob Nickson was again outstanding at the breakdown, and after forcing several turnovers, earned an early penalty. Although the attempt was narrowly missed, Sam Crowther made amends shortly after as he struck a fine kick to earn a 3-0 lead. However, Stonyhurst began to attack wider out as they had little change close to the ruck, and it was only a superb tackle by full-back Andy Walkden, aided by terrific cover defence from loose-head prop Joe Shaw that prevented the score. Indeed, following another expansive move, Arnold conceded the lead as the Stonyhurst centre drove over for a converted try.
Arnold responded superbly, as Crowther again kicked intelligently and with great precision to gain field position. From such a kick, Arnold forced the defensive error, and from the ensuing scrum James Aird broke clear of the defending back row before slipping the ball to scrum-half Richard Whiteside, who in-turn timed his pass to perfection to send Crowther through under the posts; as he added the conversion himself, Arnold led 10-7. The lead was then extended with a superb team try. Reid, Fairhead and replacement Ben Cheston combined to send Walkden clear down the right. The ball was recycled well, and after a further two phases, No 8 James Aird raced through the covering defence to score an excellent try, which was again converted by Crowther for a 17-7 half-time lead.
In the second half, Smith, Cheston and Whiteside again made a series of excellent breaks. Not for the first time though the support was slow to react and the opportunity lost on each occasion. James Aird narrowly missed the race to the touchdown following good aggressive defence, as well as a golden opportunity to convert a 3 v 1 chance. To their credit Stonyhurst also worked field position well and having kicked a penalty mid-way through the half had closed the gap to 17-13. As they maintained their drive, Stonyhurst then managed to break through and squeeze in at the corner and gain the lead with just 8 minutes remaining. Arnold again responded positively, and worked hard to maintain possession with good continuity putting together phase after phase. Following a neat break by Reid, and a subsequent dump tackle, the game took an ugly turn. Reid was forced off the field with a jaw injury, and the perpetrator escaped detection by the referee. As the clock ticked agonisingly down, Arnold were unable to create the all important opportunity to salvage something from the game - the very least they deserved.
This was not the victory or indeed performance the Spartans had hoped for. Typical shuffling of the pack saw the deserved promotion of Tom Wrigley as he gave the First XV the benefit of his driving play. Rajaan Hutchinson started at prop and improved with every scrummage as well as offering his hectic style in the loose. The welcome return of Tom Hammond was a bonus as he packed down in a very effective backrow alongside Declan Humphreys and Ben Mortimer. The lineout is increasingly oiling its cranks as Jake Mullen and his lifters continue to pressure the opposition throws. Once again the young backline looked dangerous in parts but failed to find a rhythm. Indeed, whenever the pack gained territory some unfortunate decisions went against them, especially at the first three attacking scrums where Alex Fowler was eager to allow the free running Olly Mills some space. Jack Sprigg finally got his running game going but great defence five metres out stopped any hopes of an early lead. Stonyhurst's stand out player on the wing powered over for a deserved try and could have scored more if he had received an accurate service. Stonyhurst won by 20-0.
The U15s had the difficult task of takin gon last year's Lancashire Champions. The Stonyhurst team was blessed with size, strength and lots of pace but the Arnold boys played out of their skins in the first half and amazingly led 13-7 at the break with a try from Elliott Fackey and kicks from Tyne Davis and a long penalty from Fackey as well. Stonyhurst roared back in the second half and their superb 12 and hooker really showed their ability as they scored 5 second half tries to win by 36-13 in a very entertaining game of rugby. Daniel Taziker had his best game of the year and he was matched by Matthew Garrod, Andrew Perry and Sunil Hutchinson.
The Spartans started the second half with renewed energy. Owen Burrows with an increasingly conspicuous performance in the loose secured some ball. Ben Mortimer drove and fed Will Jepson who looked odds on to score before being felled by a stricken defender. Ben Mortimer, Harry Kenworthy, Alex Connolley and Alex Fowler all went close but the soft underfooting allowed the defenders and extra chance to clear the lines. Mitch Bolus continued his mature play and was unlucky to get caught by the last man after a mesmeric run from his own 22. Predictably, the power and pace of the Stonyhurst winger earned a couple more well worked tries but it was the Spartans who finished the game looking for their first try. Ben Mortimer was held up and once again Tom Hammond and Alex Fowler went agonisingly close. Alas it was not to be, the effort could not be faulted as a team of tired bodies accepted the final whistle.
The U14s were looking to bounce back after a disappointing loss to Cheadle Hulme, against a Stonyhurst team who they had lost to in previous seasons. It was clear to see that Stonyhurst were an incredibly skilful outfit, looking to offload in the tackle area and spread the ball wide to their powerful centre duo at every opportunity. Arnold struggled to get any organisation in defence, with a constant barricade from Stonyhurst in the first 5 minutes. An obvious overlap was well worked from the Stonyhurst backs, with their outside centre running in from 50 metres. Direct running from the Stonyhurst pack resulted in them running in 4 tries in the first half, with Arnold getting few chances with the ball in hand. This certainly was a tall mountain for the Arnold team to climb, but credit has to go to the boys who never let their heads drop and spent 90% of the game scrambling in defence. Confusion at the lineout 5 metres from the Arnold line led to a 5th Stonyhurst try followed by another in the corner from their speedy winger. Arnolds persistence in defence was finally paid off with a delicate chip over from Tom Riley, being gathered by Ellis Whorlton-Jones who then played the ball back inside to Riley, who dived over the line. Arguably the best try of the match. Stonyhurst were the eventual and deserved winners 34-5.
Despite their heaviest loss of the season, this was a gutsy display from the Arnold boys, who battled for the whole game, making tackle after tackle. A few performances have to be noted- Ben Pearsons communication and defence around the breakdown was outstanding, playing like an extra back row, and Tom Rileys constant covering tackles against his opposite number has to be admired. That's 3 tries from 3 for the outside centre, who is proving to be a real asset to the side.