SURE-sponsored Vagabonds kicked off the new season with a hard-fought away win at Oldershaw on Saturday.
The same fixture last season saw Vagas travel to a swampy pitch and narrowly miss out to the big Merseyside pack, but this time round the sunshine and firm playing surface suited a mobile Vagabonds side much better.
It was Oldershaw who scored first, going over from a quick-tap penalty.
Vagabonds responded well, led by new captain Mark Howarth from the back row, and the fast-paced game meant all the pressure was on the home defence for the rest of the first half.
The scrum was dominant with the Vagas front five marching forward every time, and clean and quick ball delivered by scrum-half Matty Williams was just what the pacey Vagas backs were after.
With good ball retention in the opposition half the points duly came, first from some strong running from second row Bryn Griffith, and then from centre Sam Brennan, who raced to touch down a neat chip through from winger Tom Gascoyne.
Stand-off Aidan O’Shea converted both to leave the Manx side 7-14 up at half-time and looking good to pull away in the second half.
Oldershaw had other plans though, starting the second period with much more intensity, while the introduction of the replacement tighthead shored up their problems in the scrum.
Vagabonds had been throwing the ball around like a sevens team in the first half, but this was beginning to backfire as passes started going to ground and handling errors crept in.
This, coupled with the front foot defence from Oldershaw, meant Vagabonds were struggling to break out of their 22.
The home team made the territory count, crashing over from close range with a converted score to make it 14-14, and following it up with a score out wide to go ahead 21-14.
With a quarter of the game remaining and a chance of letting it slip away, Vagas seemed to have got the sloppiness out of their system and came back with a good team try.
A smooth lineout on the half-way line was the platform for O’Shea to link up with centre Ross McCulloch. Gascoyne was put into space out wide and his speed took him all the way to under the posts. Celebrations were shortlived as an Oldershaw penalty left the score 21-24 with less than 10 minutes to go.
But Vagas had the last say, as the pack put the power on to turn over a home scrum, and three phases later tighthead Kevin Birchall finished what he started by crashing over with the winning bonus point try. O’Shea converted to leave the final score 24-28.
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Weather for Isle of Man
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 6 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 33 mph
Wind direction: North west