By Tony Harber Morley 6 Stockport 11 WHAT a difference a year can make. Where 12 months ago it was all smiles and celebrations this time it was more field of nightmares than field of dreams at Twickenham for Morley Rugby Club.
The Maroons' glorious run in the Powergen Intermediate Cup came to an end in what they hope will be their last game in the competition.
Morley hope to be in the more senior Powergen National Trophy next season - won by Harlequins at Twickenham on Sunday - but it was no way to sign off in the Intermediate after a record busting run of 13 games without defeat in the competition.Maybe it was because the vast majority of the squad had already experienced a cup final win at rugby headquarters, maybe it was the rigors of a hard season catching up with the players, but this was a flat performance.
Definitely the cold and damp conditions, made worse by the 5.30pm start, made playing rugby difficult, but the Maroons chose Twickenham of all places to produce one of their worst performances of the season.
An inability to keep hold of the ball held them back through dropped passes and passes that were far too ambitious in the difficult conditions, There were far too many aimless kicks giving possession away and a calamitous scrummage saw no less than five scrums lost against the head.
And yet for all the failings the game ultimately came down to narrow margins with Pete Murphy missing two penalty kicks and Stockport hanging on in the closing stages.
As in recent games Morley had plenty of good field position without being able to turn the screw and just as their defence had done them proud a year earlier against Westoe it was Stockport's defending and tackling that proved the key this time.
The final started well enough for Colin Stephens' men when they kicked off and immediately put their opponents under pressure. Virtually the whole of the first 15 minutes was spent in the Stockport half, but although Craig Field and Matt Callaghan had produced strong runs that made ground crucially the try line was not breached.
Morley did get some points on the board, though, on 16 minutes when fly half Pete Murphy kicked a penalty awarded for a ruck offence.
Field produced a neat dummy and charged back into Stockport territory to take the Maroons to within 10 metres of the line again, but by now the ball appeared to have become a bar of soap with both sides making handling errors.
For a moment centre Callaghan dreamed of glory as he picked up a loose ball and was ready to race clear with no defenders in sight, but play was brought back for an earlier offside infringement against Morley and that gave the Cheshire side a chance to level matters.
Their impressive full back, Ben Chadwick, landed the 40 metre kick and after 33 minutes it was 3-3. All the Maroons' early play had come to nothing.
Within a minute Morley had a penalty and a chance to regain the lead, but although Murphy's kick from 50 metres out had the strength it drifted just wide of the posts, leaving the score at 3-3 to half time.
Stockport had never really looked like scoring a try in the first 40 minutes, but came flying out of the traps at the start of the second half and were soon ahead.
The one really good backs move of the game saw Chadwick make initial inroads, centre Marc Smith then took over and winger Dan Eccles had too much strength for Simon Bradshaw to go in at the corner for what was to prove the only try of the match.
Chadwick was unable to add the touchline conversion, but on 52 minutes was on target with a penalty under the posts.
Eight points behind, Morley now needed to score twice and made changes in the forwards. Stuart Bell came on for Alan Benn in the front row, while back row men Ben Wade and Adam Van Leuween replaced Craig Rika and Mike Burnett.
There was no improvement in the scrums, although on 56 minutes they did win a penalty. It was very kickable from 38 metres out to the left of the posts, but Murphy's effort missed by inches and a big chance to get back into the game went with it.
From now on a pattern was being set as Morley battered away and Van Leuween made a big impact in his first senior game for two years.
The big Kiwi was held just short after a terrific 20 metre burst up the middle, the ball was recycled well and moved along the line only for Simon Bradshaw to be bundled into touch a metre out from where he scored his memorable try last year.
More changes were made with Stewart Kneale and Colin Stephens coming on to add their experience to proceedings, but the same failings persisted and prop Paul Gabriel dropped the ball five metres out to end another promising attack.
Another penalty came on 75 minutes and this time Murphy made no mistake from in front of the posts to cut the deficit to five points.
Morley were inching their way back into the contest, but the Stockport defence refused to buckle and their tackling never wilted.
The match went right down to the wire nevertheless and after being less than riveting was at least set for an exciting end.
The Maroons had one final chance as the game went into injury time when they forced a line-out 10 metres out. But after doing well in this department all game suddenly it was panic time, the ball was tapped back rather than caught, went over the head of scrum half Sean Dadswell and was hacked on right to the other end of the field.
It was then just a case of running down the clock for Stockport and at the final whistle they were the ones doing the celebrating with several dejected Morley players hitting the ground in despair.
Too many of the side had off days and the constant loss of ball in the scrummage was particularly damaging.
For more on the cup final and lots of pictures of the big day at Twickenham make sure you get a copy of the March 12 edition of the Morley Observer & Advertiser