The Under 18s took a coach up to Cumbria this Sunday to face Roose Pioneers in a top of the table clash between two unbeaten teams. Ashton had brought a large following of supporters up the M6 and with plenty of Roose fans on the opposite touchline the scene was set for an absolute cracker of a match.
The opening exchanges were not for the fainthearted as both teams took in big carries and traded big hits. There was nothing to separate the teams as they both tried to gain an advantage with each team searching for an opening but neither defence showing signs of cracking. On 8 minutes it looked as though Ashton had made the first breakthrough when a clever move opened up space for Matty Ward to exploit but he was caught just short of the Roose line. It was looking as though it was going to take something special to break the deadlock. Roose eventually posted the first points of the game after a clever kick over the top bounced very kindly for one of their chasing players who went over in the right corner. The Bears reacted well to the setback and started to build some pressure through big efforts from Ethan Bibby and debutant Tom Rogers but Ashton unfortunately coughed up possession in their own half which shifted the momentum in Roose's favour. Straight from the resulting scrum, Roose caught Ashton out again with another kick-play. Ashton's defence failed to put the ball dead which allowed a Roose player to ground the ball in goal just to the left of the posts. Roose converted the try and Ashton found themselves 10-0 down against the run of play. Ashton were still in the game and felt that the scoreline flattered Roose but despite some great play from Connor Ashley, Callum Cottington and George Green, they still couldn't find a way through the Roose defence. After another 10 minutes of exhilarating, end-to-end rugby from both teams, Ashton were undone again by yet another Roose kick. Ashton failed to diffuse a high-bomb and the Roose players were quickest to react to the loose ball and they walked in under the sticks. The score was 16-0 and the Bears knew that they were going to have to dig really deep to get back into this game. With only moments to go before the half-time whistle, the Bears defence was still working tirelessly and they forced a turnover deep in the Roose half. With the seconds ticking away Ronny Broderick looked like he had scored for Ashton when he scooted from dummy half but he was held up over the line and the teams went in at half time with the score 16-0 to Roose.
Ashton knew it was going to take a monumental effort from them in the second half to get something from this game but they also knew that the difference between the teams was not as big as the scoreline suggested. The Bears needed to cut out the individual errors, stick to their game plan and take their chances when they came. With only 3 minutes played in the second half Daniel Hill made a break down the left side to put the Bears in great field position. George Green then took the ball to the line and with a superb side-step and dummy he created enough space to bust through the Roose defence and force himself over to score. Matty Ward converted the try to give the Bears a glimmer of hope and take the score to 16-6. Ashton were starting to get on top but were then dealt a blow when Callum Cottington was hit late off the ball and suffered a knee injury which meant he had to leave the field. Despite this set-back, Ashton were building in confidence and Joe Rustage, Tom Shaw and Isaac Mather were starting to dominate in the middle of the park. Isaac Wheeler and Ryan Hickey combined to make 30m downfield and Roose were now backpedalling. Ashton's kick-chase was outstanding in this half and forced another turnover in possession. Ronny Broderick scooted to set Ashton up and Jack Blake was unlucky not to score when he was on the receiving end of a high-tackle as he went for the line. Ashton chose to run the ball from the penalty and Joe Rustage took a drive towards the Roose posts. On the next play Broderick came up with a trademark scoot when he bravely dived for the line, forced the ball down and scored. Ward added the extras and put Ashton well and truly back in the game at 16-12. Tom Rogers continued to have an impact on his debut and was difficult for Roose to deal with. A penalty for a high-tackle on Rogers then set the Bears up again. Tom Shaw took a huge carry to keep the Bears rolling and then Tom Rogers followed up with another impressive run before offloading to the supporting George Green who beat a defender to ground the ball in the corner to tie the game at 16-16, much to the delight of the travelling Ashton supporters. With 8 minutes left to play you could see that the game was on a knife edge as both teams were trying everything to win the game but with their unbeaten records on the line, they also didn't want to lose it either. At one point it was Roose who looked the most likely to snatch the victory as they had two drop goal attempts sail wide of the posts but then Ashton made their way into the Roose half and through sheer determination they set up a drop goal attempt of their own. George Green fizzed the ball out of dummy half to Ronny Broderick who looked like he would be the hero of the day but a Roose defender got fingertips to his kick and diverted it onto the upright.
Just when the crowd were thinking that they'd had enough drama already, Roose found themselves with a great opportunity to score a try in the final seconds, but the pressure from the Bears' defence forced Roose to misplace their pass and as the ball hit the ground, the referee blew his whistle and the game ended in a draw.
Final Score Roose Pioneers 16-16 Ashton Bears
Man of the Match - Connor Ashley