Rugby extra: Wirral triumph in tense derby

Wirral in action against Birkenhead Park. Picture: Mike Gibbens

Wirral in action against Birkenhead Park. Picture: Mike Gibbens

First published in Sport

THIS was no ordinary derby game, writes Richard McNeil. 

It had everything, first versus second in the league, the lead changing hands four times, four sin bins, one sending off and five tries, all played out before a record crowd at the Memorial Ground.

It was Park who struck first with only three minutes on the clock, when from a line out near Wirral's line, Stu Brown scored a trademark Park try with a catch and drive.

Wirral equalised 13 minutes later when their leading try scorer, Ali Baker came into the line 22 metres out, sliced through the Park defence to score. Neither try was converted leaving the score at 5-5.

From the kick-off, Park failed to collect a kick and Wirral regained the ball and two well-timed passes put James Annetts in space.

He raced in from 40 metres out and Craig Harvey converted to give Wirral a 12-5 lead.

Wirral then went down to 14 men, sin bin, which allowed Park back into the game and scored with another catch and drive through Stu Brown from close range.

The try was complemented by a superb touchline conversion against the wind from captain, Dave Hall. 

Almost immediately Wirral lost another player for 10 minutes, despite being down to 13 men for eight minutes Wirral held out and were pleased to get to half time with the score line showing 12-12.

With the elements now in Park's favour it was expected that Wirral would be under greater pressure, not helped when on 50 minutes Wirral were reduced to 14 men again.

From the resultant penalty, Dave Hall put Park into the lead at 12-15.

Despite playing against the wind, Wirral were now putting Park under pressure in the third quarter.

The pivotal moment of the game came when Park’s Cowen was red carded for foul play.

With the extra player, Wirral were able to take the game to Park and a well-coordinated move saw James Annetts tackled two metres from the line but a deft inside pass sent Captain, Craig Harvey, crashing over close to the corner flag; the conversion was missed.

Seven minutes later, following a further sin binning of a Park player, Wirral extended their lead to 5 points with an easy Craig Harvey penalty.

Whilst this was the end of the scoring it was not without incident as Park pressed hard for the win, attacking the Wirral line but the home team was able to move back downfield when a dropped pass relieved the pressure.

The final eight minutes were played in the Park 20m area as Wirral pushed for the elusive try bonus point before the London referee called time on this pulsating game.

This win leaves Wirral with a four point lead over Park with three games remaining.

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