Saturday 28th January, Billingham 1st XV 39pts, Ilkley 1st XV 24pts
Match Report by Sean Crannigan
Despite Billingham’s thoroughly deserved top spot in this tough league, Ilkley produced one of their best performances of the season and were extremely unlucky not to get a try bonus point, eventually losing 39-23 in an entertaining match.
Billingham were at home in more ways than one, their knowledge of how to play on their 4G pitch a clear advantage, but the nature of that surface also suited Ilkley’s general approach to the game. Hardly surprising then that the encounter produced nine tries.
Ilkley had seen very little of the ball before their hosts gave notice of their intentions, left-wing Martin Hopley completing a fine move in the corner. Kobe Robby’s conversion attempt fell short, but his side were ahead after just five minutes.
Ilkley’s Harry Harrison fielded a kick ahead well, but the support was a little slow in arriving and the ball was snaffled by the marauding Billingham back-row, but a knock-on gave Ilkley the put in at the first scrum of the afternoon. This was won comfortably and Ilkley were able to demonstrate that they were not there merely to make up the numbers with a promising attack.
A second foray into the Billingham 22 yielded a penalty, which Chuckie Ramsay stroked over to reduce the arrears.
The home side then elected not to go for goal when they were awarded a penalty of their own, but Ilkley’s defence held, but not for long. A defensive line was won, but then the ball appeared to go loose and was snapped up by lock Mike Walton, who crashed over close to the posts. Roxby slotted the extras and it was 12-3 after 20 minutes.
A raking penalty kick by Kodie Brook, following some good running from Ben Walker, took Ilkley to 15m out and a line to win. Max Jones obliged and after more good work by Walker, another Ramsay penalty brought the score to 12-6.
Billingham didn’t take long to get perilously close to the Ilkley line and when Luke Gamble was adjudged to have slowed play down, earning a yellow card, another excellent handling move resulted in a try for the hosts’ right-wing, Matt Kirby who touched down under the posts. Roxby’s kick made it 19-6.
Ilkley to their credit came straight back, with Kristan Dobson breaking out of defence. Billingham were forced to concede a 5m scrum and in a flash, quick hands saw Dobson slice through the defence to score a well-deserved try, converted by Ramsay to make it 19-13 as the half-time whistle blew.
The first ten minutes of the second half saw Billingham at their best. Quick thinking at two free kicks, with impressive support and offloading allowed scrum-half Conner Foley to score and whilst the conversion was missed, five minutes later, a mesmerising passage of play saw Hopley go over for his second. Roxby’s kick was good and in what seemed an instant, Ilkley were twenty points behind at 31-13.
The deficit was reduced when Dobson showed some quick thinking of his own, taking a quick tap and scoring his second, the conversion missing - 31-18.
A Billingham penalty hit the post and the ball stayed live for Ilkley to clear. On their next attack, Billingham’s evergreen Captain and stand-off Peter Evans calmly kicked a rare drop-goal to make up for the penalty miss.
Whilst the pace slowed a little in the last quarter of the game, the entertainment remained top class, with Ilkley pounding away at a resolute Billingham defence. A yellow card was flashed at the home side’s Joe Evans for obstruction and the resulting penalty took Ilkley to the 5 meter line. The line was unfortunately lost.
However, in trying to run out of defence Billingham held on too long in the tackle and Ilkley had another line. This time, the throw in and tap back were perfect and scrum-half Archie Elgood spotted the gap and darted over for a try, unconverted.
At 34-23, Ilkley were desperate for another try and with it, a possible two bonus points, but it was the home side who finished with a flourish, a textbook rolling maul killing the game off, as Number Eight, Dan Dixon claimed the spoils. The missed conversion was irrelevant and despite Ilkley doing their best to get the game going again, it proved to be too late as Mr Coubrough brought an end to proceedings.
So, a doughty display by the Dalesmen and one that augurs well for their next fixture, the rearranged match against Paviors. The Nottingham side sits one place and five points behind Ilkley and they have a game in hand - the maths are pretty simple - so the encounter has assumed a huge importance.
However, now that it seems that Ilkley are working far better as a team and with some real fire-power in the backs, their supporters are looking for a continuance of the form shown today and a five point win.