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A hot day at Heath for the Dalesmen

Saturday 2nd September 2023 Heath RUFC vs ILKLEY RFC @ North Dean, Halifax

Result: Heath 32, Ilkley 12

The sun was gleaming bright, and very hot! The welcome was warm as ever. A gleaming new car park gave the visitors the feeling that the mood was ultra positive at Heath and they fancied their chances of improving on their runners up spot last season. The pitch was manicured (so different from the last time when a deluge had rendered it barely playable).

The gleaming new kits (Ilkley’s all black the away kit) with gleaming new sponsors’ logos were donned. The scene was set for the season’s opener.

Image C/O Heath RUFC

There was an array of new players on both sides. Heath had a number returning to their boyhood club having strutted their stuff in higher leagues, including Ezra Hinchliffe fresh from the Championship with Caldy. Ilkley had Charlie Morgan after spells at Leeds Tykes and Otley at 10, plus two new props in Archie Medway and Jamie Slator and back rowers Adam Booth (at 8) and Will Collinson (replacement) all stepping up to level five from lower leagues.

The excellent referee Mr Tom Doig, no doubt with a gleaming new whistle, was charged with officiating the new below the belly button tackle laws.

Despite a somewhat conspicuous inequality in physical size compared to the Heath “big lads”, the Dalesmen started well resisting some persistent Heath pressure whilst the indomitable Ben Magee set the fires burning amongst the large visiting support with a typical weaving charge into opposition territory.

An ILKLEY penalty on half way earned a lineout 10 metres out. It was adjudged marginally offline. Heath responded with a scrum, a penalty, then another scrum to earn a shot at goal in front. Chris Johnson made no mistake. 3-0.

Then skipper Joe Lowes took a nasty knock defending the ILKLEY line and had to leave the field. The wily veteran Luke Gamble sporting a new sleek haircut replaced him.

More defensive action before some deft back play with Magee, Kodie Brook and Keiran Wilyman combining well to force two successive penalties. A lineout five metres out was cruelly lost, just eluding the excellent Alex Powell’s fingertips.

Back came the Dalesmen with both wings, Ben Walker and Harry Smith looking spritely and dangerous.

This time a knock-on close to the Heath line handed the initiative back to the home side. You don’t need to hand the initiative to Heath too many times and they took full advantage of a penalty for side entry, then a clearance straight out to get their supercharged line into gear. Full back Sam Fletcher the scorer. Johnson added the extras. 10-0.

From a great lineout 15 metres out ILKLEY forged another opportunity but this time were penalised for holding on, a skill set that Heath excelled in throughout.

It took only the resulting penalty and a lineout to get the backs in full flow. Gritty defence wasn’t enough and this time centre Tom Clough was the beneficiary. Johnson was again on target. 17-0.

Half time provided welcome relief for refuelling and for the respective coaches to deliver words of encouragement. Changes were made by both sides. Ilkley brought on the big enforcer Will Addyman and Will Collinson for his league debut.

A thankfully rare high tackle by Heath was penalised and Powell, having the game of his ILKLEY career charged from the lineout, but was isolated by the Heath jackallers.

Powell and his second row partner Tom Dickinson were excellent throughout.

Heath could make nothing of their lineout and back on the attack came the Dalesmen with some lovely back play. They had a penalty in front but opted for an attacking lineout. Heath’s defence was being tested and a high tackle resulted in a ten minute rest for the perpetrator. The score looked on but Mr Doig once again ruled in favour of the Heath jackal. They cleared to half way but their lineout didn’t function. ILKLEY had a scrum then a penalty and they were back with a lineout 10 metres out. It was well won by Powell and the rumble was deployed. Ollie Ham went over for the Dalesmen’s first score of the season. Morgan was on point with the conversion. 17-7.

With Heath’s numbers restored the excitement on the away end was mounting. Heath were a tad rattled.

Ilkley then suffered from an enforced rest as young Collinson left an arm out and caught Hinchliffe high.

The loss of a man and the resulting penalty goal from Johnson failed to take the wind out of the Dalesmen’s sails and back they went as first Heath suffered some of their own medicine conceding a penalty for holding on. That produced a lineout just inside the Heath 22. Great ILKLEY play with the ball, having passed through just about the whole team’s hands was finally squeezed out to Smith who made a good 20 metres to score wide out. Morgan’s kick was just wide of the uprights. 20-12.

With 10 minutes to play, at the minimum, a losing bonus point was in sight.

It wasn’t to be. Heath stepped their foot on the gas and ran in two more tries, the first from a lineout close in which Ilkley didn’t contest. The ploy failed and the try was given.

The second came as Ilkley fell foul of the jackal on half way and Heath’s forward drive was held up. They came back from the drop out at pace and finally played their way over for the final try. Both were scored by number 8 Ben Stringer. One was converted.

The final score 32-12.

Credit to Heath. They are a big powerful unit with some seriously experienced personnel. But equal credit to the Dalesmen for a determined and often exciting display. They will certainly improve with greater confidence.

And what of the new laws? Contrary to the naysayers, they were hardly noticed. Have they made the game safer? That remains to be seen. The 2 yellow cards would have been shown even under the old laws.

This week another trip faces the Dalesmen. This time to Alnwick (near Scotland).

Both 1st and 2nd XV’s make the long journey. Supporters as always are urged to get behind the lads. Forget the World Cup. Support the lads!


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