Knutsford 1st XV 17 - 20 Crewe and Nantwich 2nd XV

KNUTSFORD’s first league game in over 18 months played out with a narrow defeat on Saturday to a well drilled and direct running Crewe and Nantwich second team.

There was a significant air of what might have been, though, and the wider sense was that the performance showed huge potential for the season ahead.

Knutsford’s pitch was in fantastic condition and the weather was perfect for a free-running game and the visitors chose to start with the wind and heading downhill.

Immediately, Knutsford found themselves under pressure from the Crewe back line. Knutsford’s back line defence showed a lack of polish and twice C&N went through the midfield to score after some strong upfront phase play.

Knutsford settled into the game though and some superb phases play via Jack Field and Kyle Blake secured second phase ball.

New scrum-half James Docherty, who had a superb debut, found powerhouse Liam Boyle in the midfield and this created some space for the backs to exploit.

Fly-half Cook found big Jim Southall at 12 and he made 40 yards, shrugging off several Crewe tackles and Knutsford found themselves on the visitors' five-metre line.

Despite a lack of organisation at that point, a quick-thinking Docherty threw a shot-to-nothing ball out behind him through his legs which landed straight into Cook's hands and he ran in to score. Full-back Fergus Greaves added the extras.

Knutsford were the next scorers, again showing that when they get into their pattern they can be difficult to stop.

Howard Dunkerley and Stefano Spinola had great games and it was those two who secured the line out and the platform.

Two phases later with some strong running from Giles Robertson and Russell Finn, Docherty found new winger Chris Owen on an inside ball.

His run was quality – everyone thought he’d been stopped but somehow he wriggled free and broke from the 22 to score under the posts.

Half time came and into the second half, Knutsford were trailing by a converted score.

Playing downhill, the game started to open up but too many penalties for silly mistakes, backchat and handling errors ultimately cost Knutsford important field position that historically they would have been clinical enough to convert.

Time and again Crewe escaped but eventually, pressure told.

Knutsford’s backs started finding space out wide and Cook had a try disallowed in the corner after some neat hands from captain Sam Bensky and Southall in the corner

Minutes later though, Cook made sure this time after another superb Knutsford scrum created the platform for him to cut through the midfield to score his second try of the day.

Knutsford made some changes but as the teams tired, the game was finely poised at 17-17 with eight minutes to go.

Knutsford conceded another penalty for a high tackle within kicking distance for Crewe, the kick was missed with it bouncing back off the bar and the resulting confusion around whether a mark can be called or not (it can’t) resulted in the ref having enough and sending off a Knutsford player for backchat.

This resulting penalty was slotted and Knutsford spent the last seven mins with 14 men.

Knutsford tried to rally – a neat kick right into the corner from Cook set the scene for a potential score to win but more errors saw the chance squandered.

The game finished 17-20 to Crewe and ultimately fitness, discipline and handling errors led to a defeat that really should have been a win and left the team wondering what might have been.