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A Valiant Final Performance

Saturday 6th April 2004, Ilkley RFC vs Heath RUFC, Venue: Stacks Field, Ilkley, Result: Ilkley 28 pts, Heath 46 pts

It’s official - size really does count!

The sun made what seemed like it’s seasonal appearance. The pre-match lunch was sumptuous and well a sated crowd was swollen by a whole host of Heath supporters hoping beyond hope that Driffield would put one over on Harrogate and that their side could clinch a five point victory and with it the league championship. 

Well, Heath did the business, but unfortunately Driffield didn’t. Harrogate notched a convincing victory and were crowned champions despite having to move their home fixture to Driffield due to the waterlogged pitch at Rudding Lane.

With Luke Gareth Gamble and Eddie Brown signifying their retirement following this match and Rob Sigsworth celebrating his 50th start for the Dalesmen, there was added emotion ahead of this important season ending fixture. All three were greeted warmly by both sets of supporters.

Referee Mr Matthew Higgins got proceedings underway and immediately the freshening breeze played its part as the ILKLEY kick off went straight into touch.

The scrum on half way was won and ILKLEY’s pack were pushed back at rate of knots, coughing up a penalty. 

This first sign of the size advantage was ominous.

Heath couldn’t make the resulting lineout pay and ILKLEY won a jackaller’s penalty.

Taken quickly the ball was shipped to Charles Morgan and a superb looping pass found Will Marlow on the wing. He went round one, stepped inside another, handed off two more and found clear water to the posts for, what must take the vote for, try of the season. 7-0.

Morgan then had a penalty attempt, but it held up on the stiffening breeze and fell agonisingly short. The Dalesmen held the lead for 17 minutes.

Unfortunately the big Heath lads got their heavy armour going as ILKLEY’s discipline deserted them. A try for prop Oliver Cook from a penalty and lineout close in, quickly followed by another from prop Joshua Crickmay after ILKLEY were turned over as they tried to keep ball in hand inside their 22. 7-12. The Dalesmen’s enterprise was frustrated as a nice exit set up an overlap but Heath’s sharp shooter Callum Harriett-Brown swooped and left the defenders flat-footed to score under the posts. 7-19 on the half hour.

James Colclough replaced Gamble.

It got worse for the shell-shocked Dalesmen as Heath added a superbly crafted try from half way, this one from scrum half Dominic Walsh. Then to add insult to injury they crafted an even better one from their own 22 via most of the team, replacement Peter Hampshire the scorer. 

Orchestrator and conductor Johnson slotted an easy penalty to leave ILKLEY trailing 7-36 to bring the half to a close.

Against such a big side, it seemed no amount of cajoling could overturn a 29 point deficit but the mercurial magicians, coaches Morgan and Clithero must have put something in the half time tea.

They sent on Jack Popely to replace Charlie Head. Here’s a great example that size isn’t everything - Popely has a massive heart and made himself a real nuisance.

Adam Booth was battering his usual course down the middle, aided and abetted by his colleagues Jamie Slator, Tom Dickinson and Sigsworth and gradually the Dalesmen began to grow into the match. 

A 50/22 from Morgan almost produced a try. Heath began to cough up penalties and did so on half way incurring a yellow card in the process. Then Mr Higgins reversed the penalty as a wayward boot accidentally caught a Heath player’s face and ILKLEY’s biggest man Alex Powell saw red. Unfortunate, but that’s the law.

Jordan Cummins was sacrificed to let Gamble back into the pack, leaving the Dalesmen to play 25 minutes with 14 men.

Archie Elgood replaced Brown.

From the penalty Heath won the lineout and, after a couple of good phases, winger Joe Morrison forced his way over to extend the lead to 7-41.

The white flag doesn’t get waved by these Dalesmen though, and they were quickly back in Heath’s 22 only to be turned over. Back at halfway Elliot Morgan made it into the Heath 22 and popped a little pass to Max Jones, a bundle of energy throughout.

Jones battered his way for several metres and, with the added power of three or four mates, went over to score. 14-41.

Heath’s Harriott-Brown then got ten minutes in the naughty chair to even up the numbers.

Ben Magee was now making his presence felt taking ILKLEY close with some penetrating runs and well judged kicks, but without dividend, as Heath were now called on to show their considerable defensive abilities.

Magee kicked delicately into the Heath 22 and, with a straightforward clearance kick, the fullback was charged down by the excellent Colclough who collected the loose ball and made haste towards the goal line, managing at the same time to demonstrate his juggling skills before diving over. 21-41.

Harriott-Brown returned to action and benefitted from some great running and smooth passing from his backs to score Heath’s final try out wide. 21-48.

Popely then got into a tangle with the man mountain Heath lock - not advisable! A touch of handbags broke out involving just about all 30 players. Mr Higgins was unable to identify a culprit and ILKLEY had the put-in at the scrum. They coughed up a penalty and then 10 more metres for back chat. 

Heath were turned over close to the try line and the Dalesmen escaped through the strong and mazy running of Marlow. He scrambled the ball to Magee who beat several defenders to shimmy his way over and under the posts.

Final score 28-48.

This was ILKLEY’s second 20 point defeat to Heath having lost 32-12 in the season’s opener.

Ilkley had a try bonus point. Heath had five points but, in reality, only the disappointment of the news from Driffield. 

The old adage that rugby is a game for the big, the small, the short and the tall still holds good but, my goodness, there is a significant advantage in having a team loaded with men, XXXL, both in height and in bulk. At least 4 of the big lads’ tries came from set pieces close in to the ILKLEY goal line. Make no mistake however, Heath also had experience and sumptuous talent epitomised by stand-off Chris Johnson and Ezra Hinchliffe along with prop Crickmay all of whom have plied their trade higher up the league pyramid.

The curtain has come down on the 2023/24 season which, for the Dalesmen has had its highs and it’s lows. Regrettably, particularly of late, rather more lows than highs. Victories at Pontefract featuring a near perfect first half display, at Alnwick and at Harrogate on their midden, and at home against Blaydon were my picks. Narrow defeats to York, Sandal (twice), Alnwick and Scunthorpe were particularly galling. The leadership group and the coaching team will have some hard thinking between now and July when it all gets going again.

Percy Park from the North East and old friends Selby are the sides promoted to North One East. Huddersfield (with new coach the ex-captain of Rugby League outfit Huddersfield Giants, Danny Brough) and either Billingham or, most likely, Hull Ionians coming down from National two.

Harrogate go back to National league two and early season pacesetters Doncaster Phoenix and Pontefract prove just how fickle league rugby is as they depart downwards.

By my calculations that leaves North One East with one too many clubs and someone will be unlucky to be side-shifted into North One West.

ILKLEY’s 2nd XV finished on a high note as they defeated Heath’s 2nd XV 49-28. This week the Aire Wharfe Cup competition begins as the 2nd XV travel the short journey to even older friends KEIGHLEY. Kick off is at 7 pm at Utley. This competition (first devised in the 1980’s by ILKLEY members to prolong interest through April) is always a great way to end the season. Please come and support the boys.

ILKLEY’s Centurions came away from Roundhegians with a hard fought 20-14 victory against the hosts’ 2nd XV.

Ilkley Rugby Club is proud and pleased to have Oscar BINNS selected in the Yorkshire under 17’s academy squad which was in action over the weekend. Well done Oscar!

Ilkley Rugby Club is saddened to note the passing of two prominent members, Patron Keith Feather and Life Member Keith Simpson. Both were good and generous supporters of the club. 

We pass our sincere condolences to their families and their many friends both in rugby and elsewhere in the local community.


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