Sandal RUFC vs ILKLEY RFC, At Milnthorpe Green, Sandal 22 pts, ILKLEY 17 pts
A strangely flat atmosphere and a nithering crosswind blowing diagonally uphill greeted these two old foes onto the Milnthorpe Green slope.
Who will forget the epic battle for Yorkshire league One honours in 2008 when Sandal ground out a 15-7 victory in one of the best and most intense grassroots matches this reporter has ever witnessed?
Saturday’s encounter didn’t quite match the intensity of 2008 and for the most part was a fairly turgid affair possibly reflecting the fact that the business end of the league was mainly about league position and pride with promotion (Billingham) and relegation (West Bridgford and either Paviors or Scunthorpe) already pretty much decided.
Ilkley kicked off down the slope and for 5 minutes were all over Sandal, going close twice before Chuckie Ramsay gave his side an early 3 point lead.
That was pretty much it as far as Ilkley’s first half went. They conceded penalty number one (of fourteen in the match) from the kick off for failing to roll away. This must have got whistleblower Tom Hurdley’s attention as 6 more penalties for the same offence or similar ruck/maul indiscretions were conceded in the half.
Penalty number 4, after some strong Sandal driving from a lineout on Ilkley’s 22 as a result of penalty number 3, saw skipper Joe Lowes yellow carded and Sandal with another lineout 5 metres out. Several phases were required before wily scrum half Cam Allen darted over for the opening try. 7-3 to the home side.
Ben Magee was forced to clear off his own line, but his effort to find clear ground skewed across the field and only his last ditch tackle on Will Henshall saved another score. However the score wasn’t too long in coming as Sandal’s next attack down the right saw ILKLEY defenders drop off two tackles to allow Joey Allott in in the corner. 12-3.
Another try, with ILKLEY defenders falling off tackles, this time from James Ellar out wide followed quickly after to take the score to 17-3.
Lowes returned to the fray with his side 10 points worse off than at his enforced rest period.
It went from bad to worse as two lineouts were lost and Sandal won penalty number 6 on half way. A storming run through the middle by man-mountain lock Austin Thompson who was felled on the ILKLEY 22. Penalty number 7 produced another drive at the visitors’ line. A scrum to Sandal produce the bonus point try as Allott went over to bag his brace. 22-3 with ten minutes to go in the half was ominous to say the least.
Floris van Oekel replaced young Ben Walker who had incurred a thigh knock.
There followed a ten minute tussle in which there were glimmers of light for the Dalesmen but Sandal defended the opportunities aggressively and effectively.
Now if there has been one overriding feature of the Dalesmen’s season it has been their indomitable tackling which has seen them keep the opposition out and earn valuable losing bonus points despite being beaten on the day. Today it deserted them, at least it did in the first half.
Coaches Andrew Clithero and Rhys Morgan would have to kick the hairbrush about in the warmth of the changing room to get any change out of the bank in the second period.
Steven Costello replaced Alex Powell. Blake Morgan swapped positions with Archie Elgood and the half got underway with a rare penalty to ILKLEY. Sandal, aware of the danger of a quick one, held onto the ball and despite the best efforts of van Oekel it wasn’t forthcoming. Costello went to assist but, in the melee, was ruled to have used his knee illegally. The referee’s (correct) response was a red card and an essay in his notebook. Powell returned to make up the eight forwards at the expense of the unfortunate Elgood and ILKLEY had to face 38 minutes with 14 men and a 19 point deficit.
The penalty was reversed and numbers 8 and 9 followed quickly after.
After slogging it out for half of the time remaining and looking the more likely to eek out a score as Magee and his backs were beginning to find some space.
The ILKLEY supporters perked up a bit.
Sandal lost their talismanic lock Nick Carolan, a Dalesman of yore, to a knee injury.
Magee, Kodie Brook and the flying Dutchman van Oekel went close.
The long-awaited first XV debut of Josh Pinder arrived as Ollie Ham took a well deserved rest.
Ilkley had a scrum and won it. Morgan found Brook on a great line to score under the posts. 22-10.
More good ILKLEY play was producing mistakes as Sandal’s nerves began to mount, perhaps remembering Ben Walker’s try in the fixture at Stacks Field.
They were right to worry. A great steal on halfway saw the ball pop out to Keiran Wileyman who set off like a train for the try line and scored out wide. Ramsay’s conversion was good. 22-17.
With the losing bonus point subject to holding out for 5 minutes, ILKLEY had to defend their line following penalties number 12 & 13. That was a tense tussle and a half but a Sandal error and an ILKLEY scrum provided the break out.
Now with a converted try to win, ILKLEY sensed something was on here.
Another scrum took play to half way and a rare ILKLEY penalty produced a lineout. From nowhere van Oekel appeared with the ball steaming down the same wing as Wileyman a few minutes before. A miracle tackle by Cam Bainbridge stopped him 2 metres short and great support and jackal from Ellar forced a penalty for holding on.
That was that. A solitary losing bonus point but league safety assured.
The Dalesmen had done exceptionally well to fight back with true grit after their forgettable first half.
This week they welcome high flying Driffield to Stacks Field. Kick off reverts to 3 pm so the guests at Mr President’s lunch will be well fuelled to cheer on the Dalesmen to close out the rest of the season with aplomb.
Heath away on 11th March and finally York on 18th at Stacks Field precede the eagerly awaited and much vaunted Papa John’s cup games. Let’s hope the tournament is not as flat as the eponymous pizzas!
Ilkley’s 2nd XV travelled to Sandal with the senior side and grabbed a great victory 43-28.
Notable in this match was first taste of senior rugby for two young seventeen year old Dalesmen who have been at the club from age 5, Rory Gazeley and Finn Ramage. There are more to come too.
There is so much to celebrate as these young men earn their spurs in the senior game. A big shout out here for the coaches who have nurtured and encouraged them through the junior and age grade sections of the club.
The ILKLEY 3rd XV, the Centurions ran out victors in a close encounter with Leeds Medics and Dentists 2nd XV. 42-29 the final score. Thankfully the visitors were not called upon to utilise any of their blossoming expertise!
Sunday 26th February saw three young ILKLEY senior players selected to represent Yorkshire under 20’s in a county match held at Sandbach vs Cheshire.
The three are Max Jones who captains the Yorkshire side, prop forward Ollie Ham and winger Ben Walker. Congratulations to these fine young players. The future is bright.