Manchester were left to rue a slow start as they lost narrowly to the University of Salford in the Varsity challenge. Second half tries from Imad Nazir, Dace Burkhill and Luke Ince were not enough as Salford held out to win the game by 14 points.
Manchester started the game strongly which was being played at the Salford City Stadium, home of the Super League side of the same name. Strong running from prop Chris Bow tested the home team’s defence, but it was the hosts who were on the score sheet first. Against the run of play Salford scored the game’s opening try in the fifth minute, with winger Matt Burkin running the length of the pitch after intercepting an up and under deep inside his own half.
Despite conceding a try early on Manchester continued to pile pressure on the Salford line and were rewarded with plenty of attacking opportunities after poor kicking from Salford. However Salford worked their way into the game and the physicality and size of their forwards allowed the side to gain valuable metres with each tackle. Manchester’s defence was struggling with the intensity with which Salford attacked and inevitably conceded their second try of the half moments later. Centre Adam Jeffries touched down after a quick switch of play after just 15 minutes to leave the away team stunned.
In an alarmingly one sided first half, Salford scored their third try of the game in the 20th minute. Centre Jefferies once again the try scorer, capitalising on a number of missed tackles, with Manchester really struggling to work their way into the game at 16-0 down. Yet with half an hour gone, they were testing the Salford defence and should have scored after the ball was spread wide but the pass to Joe Butch was not accurate enough and Salford escaped another scare.
Chris Bower, outstanding throughout, continued to lead from the front as the away side clawed their way back into the game. Manchester continued to look threatening and Joe Butch forced his way over the Salford line yet the ball was adjudged to be held up.
Despite persistent pressure from Manchester , the first half try they so rightly deserved seemed beyond their reach as a mixture of brilliant defending and a inability to capitalise on the overlaps meant the away side ended the first half scoreless.
Despite all the pressure from Manchester, Salford got their reprieve after a mix up under the highball from the Manchester wings and scored their 4th try of the game just before the interval, with replacement scrum half Mustapha Bouamra touching down in the corner. Once again Manchester were punished for not committing enough defenders to the blind side. Salford went into the break 22-0 up but the ability to take try-scoring opportunities was the only thing separating the two sides.
The Second half began much as the first had ended for Manchester however when a routine pass was knocked on and fell very kindly to Salford centre Dom Foy to collect the ball and score under the posts.
Despite the score line, Manchester rallied round and the game was a very even affair in the second half with both sides rotating their respective squads and it was clear if they were to get a few points on the board, their belief would grow further.
With ten minutes gone in the second half the away side finally got the try they so richly deserved. Quick ball from the scrum half found centre Imad Nazir who outpaced his defender easily to score in the corner to make it 28-4.
Manchester continued to run strongly and were arguably the better side in the second half. Having identified they were up against a bigger side, Manchester coach Andy Connaughton decided to change their game plan and decided to spread the ball far more, with Oli White impressing on the wing and try scorer Nazir running strongly from centre.
The new tactic paid dividends as it was out wide that Manchester found their second try. Quick ball found Nazir in space who shifted the ball quickly to White who set up Dave Burkhill to touch down in the corner to the delight of the vocal and patient Manchester support.
Buoyed on by their second try, Manchester continued to attack as they looked to reduce the deficit. Another fantastic break by Guy Michaels gave his side a great attacking platform with scrum half Luke Ince taking advantage of the splintered defence to dart between two Salford defenders to score his side’s third try of the half.
Chris Bower, undoubtedly his side’s most influential player, continued to break the Salford defence and the prop almost scored with the final play of the game but was unluckily held up just short.
Having won the second half comfortably Manchester will feel frustrated they conceded so many points in the first half but the team showed glimpse of what they are capable of and displayed incredible spirit to battle back from 28-0.
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