Carlisle lost their way – and the game, as they went down 27-23 to visitors Wilmslow in North One West.
It was particularly disappointing as a good first-half performance had seen them turn round with a thoroughly deserved 16-3 lead.
The city side had started brightly and were only denied by a stout defence and their own willingness to commit penalties in the oppositions 22, giving the visitors a chance to breathe.
Steven Benson got Carlisle on the scoreboard with a 30 metre penalty in front of the posts to settle things down, and though Wilmslow had some opportunities to press forward, Carlisle were beginning to dominate the game.
That dominance finally paid off midway through the first half as an attacking line-out under the new 50:22 rule, allowed Carlisle to spread the ball wide across the backs for winger Jake Whittaker to cross in the left corner, for his first senior score.
Wilmslow got on the scoreboard from a penalty on the Carlisle 22 a few minutes later.
However, it wasn’t long before Carlisle secured their second try, as full-back Max Connon collected a failed touch kick and jinked his way through the onrushing Wilmslow cover defence, feeding fly half James Telford to do his own side-stepping through the rearguard and over the whitewash.
Carlisle continued to exert pressure on the visitors, and another jinking run from Connon, was repulsed illegally, giving Benson the opportunity to increase the score by another three points.
Although Carlisle continued to put the visitors under pressure, they just couldn’t quite convert that possession into more points, and the half ended with Carlisle worth their 16-3 lead.
The second half started much more profitably for the visitors, as Carlisle were penalised at the breakdown after five minutes, and the Wilmslow centre found a gap through the defence to secure their first try.
Carlisle pushed on though and after a lot of possession inside the Wilmslow 22 and a number of red zone penalties, the referee lost his patience and binned a Wilmslow prop. Carlisle exploited the numbers and from a scrum set piece, drove Wilmslow back to their line, with Matt Shields picking up from the back of the scrum to drop over the line. Benson converted.
A few minutes later each side lost a player to the bin after a bout of handbags, and then things just fell apart for Carlisle.
A failed kick to touch was gathered up by the Wilmslow fullback who drifted through the Carlisle defence off-loading to their flanker who saw clear space, and didn’t need a second invitation to go behind the posts for the visitors second.
By this point Wilmslow had got their second wind, their tails were up and Carlisle were having to defend a diminishing lead. That was wiped out with five minutes to go as Wilmslow went through the phases, steadily built possession and territory and their winger found space to go round for their third, converted for a one point lead.
Although Carlisle tried to find a way out of their half, they just couldn’t fashion an opportunity to do so, perhaps being guilty of trying to force things instead of relying on the game plan from the first half.
In doing so they committed another penalty, giving the Wilmslow fly half the chance to extend the lead to four points with a minute to go, and leaving no realistic chance for Carlisle to get back into the game.