Anselmians 9, Birkenhead Park 32

BIRKENHEAD Park were made to work extremely hard for victory in the Wirral derby at Anselmians in North 1 West on Saturday.

It was the first ever league meeting between the two clubs, who have historically had close links over the years.

The occasion created much interest and a healthy crowd assembled at the Vauxhall ground to watch an absorbing contest.

Park started well and after a period of pressure centre Carl Southan broke through for the first try after five minutes.

Anselmians came back and pressurised Park into conceding a penalty and full back Ben Sadler opened the home account.

Dave Hall missed a long range effort for Park but he made no mistake when Saints were penalised in front of the posts.

Park continued to probe the determined home defence and following a line-out in the Saints 22 scrum-half Dave Morgan broke before feeding Martin O'Keefe who was unstoppable from close range, Dave Hall converted.

Soon after, the talismanic O'Keefe was forced off through injury and this clearly lifted the home team.

Saints' number eight Matty Dowler was prominent in the loose but good Park defence kept their line intact before a second Sadler penalty made it 6-15 at half time.

Saints tried their best to get back in contention but poor handling at times let them down as the Park defence continued to frustrate the home team.

Substitute Liam Isaacs hit a third penalty for Anselmians after fifty minutes to put them just six points behind.

Tension was mounting for both sides and Park lost the influential Alec Hampden-Smith from the back row with Matt Walls switching from centre to flank and Hem Johal coming into the centre.

Johal immediately had an impact and quick hands put Elliot Madgin clear on the wing, but an illegal challenge by former Park man Sam Russell took Madgin out and the referee awarded a penalty try with Russell sent to the sin bin.

This was a clear turning point as Park now had a comfortable advantage going into the last quarter.

Park went looking for the bonus point try with Morgan going close after a great solo run.

Eventually second row Josh Smith beat several defenders to seal the victory and a much needed maximum return for Park.

Dave Hall had the last say with a penalty but the final margin of victory was somewhat flattering after a tough match.

Park director of rugby, Martin O'Keefe said: "After two defeats we really needed this victory and we clearly deserved the spoils.

"We knew Anselmians would make it tough but we had more of a cutting edge and our defence was excellent overall."

This Saturday Park welcome old adversaries Manchester.

It is many years since the sides have met but the history of the fixture goes right back to the very origins of club rugby in the nineteenth century. Kick off is 2.15pm at the Upper Park.