A thing of sublime beauty, hair raising defence, chaos and indiscipline wrapped up with 5 league points
Saturday 14th October 2023 Pontefract R.U.F.C. vs ILKLEY R.F.C. Venue: Moor Lane, Carleton, Pontefract. Result: Pontefract 17 pts, ILKLEY 34 pts
A chilly autumnal afternoon in the leafy suburbs of Pontefract greeted the Dalesmen to a ground that they had not visited for ten years. Substantial improvements to the clubhouse and ground had been made including widening the pitch. The hospitality was as warm and welcoming as ever.
Pontefract already had the scalps of Heath and Cleckheaton under their belts and their confidence of a result today was palpable. But they clearly hadn’t reckoned with the resurgent ILKLEY side whose wingmen Ben Walker and new signing Jordan Cummins would revel in the space created by Jack Maplesden, Charlie Morgan, Kristan Dobson, Keiran Wilyman and Kodie Brook.
The match was refereed by Mr Kristian Garland. It would be fair to say his participation had a significant influence on the final points tally, if not on the result itself.
Ilkley had the slight advantage of the slope and the tricky breeze in the first half.
The opening salvos were a thing of real beauty. It took only 3 minutes, two lineouts, a scoring chance for Cummins and a penalty to deliver the first score from a lineout 5 metres out. Jack Popeley’s throw hit his man perfectly. A text book drive was unstoppable and Alex Powell got the ball down. 5-0.
Despite a couple of penalties conceded, ILKLEY were keeping Pontefract pegged in their half. Walker was sniping from deep when he was on the receiving end of probably the hardest but fair tackles seen this season. He wasn’t phased, set the ball to release the unstoppable Dobson into Pontefract’s 22.
A lineout was offline and Pontefract seemed to have escaped. This time the rampaging Wilyman turned them over and back to the 22. Maplesden pass found Morgan whose dancing feet stepped this way and that and stepped again for the second try under the posts. 12-0.
Pontefract kicked off straight out. The ILKLEY scrum on half way got Dobson away and in full flight. He brushed off three defenders to score under the posts. 19-0.
Pontefract were shell-shocked but clearly not down and out. Finally they got into the Dalesmen’s 22 following a penalty. The solid lineout, one of their main strike weapons, got them up to the line but they conspired to knock on.
Ilkley cleared with a monster kick which eluded the Pontefract winger. Walker was up and on to it. He fed Dobson who was felled just short but he popped the ball up to Cummins to score Ilkley’s fourth try for the bonus point. 24-0.
With just thirty minutes gone and apparently little to bother the Dalesmen the dynamic of this encounter changed. It is difficult to discern why but suddenly ILKLEY were defending with a lineout on their 22. A penalty was coughed up and backchat conceded another 10 metres. Sudddenly the powerful Pontefract scrum came into the game. Now it was Ilkley’s defence that was called upon. Four penalties were conceded, though exactly what for was unclear.
Max Jones who was having a stormer suddenly went down after contact with a boot away from the ball and from Mr Garland’s attention. Jones and the coaching team were incensed. Jones had to come off. Luke Gamble, no mean replacement, entered the fray.
Try as they may, Pontefract couldn’t breach the defensive lines and eventually the ball was turned over. That man Wilyman again.
A forward pass gave the initiative back to Pontefract. Two scrums and two lineouts later Pontefract were still battering at the ILKLEY line. A penalty scrum finally exceeded Mr Garland’s tolerance level and Rob Sigsworth was carded. Pontefract still wanted to scrummage so Cummins had to be sacrificed to allow Josh Pinder in to the front row. Two more penalty scrums finally saw the ball go wide but was dropped under close attention of the ILKLEY defenders. Ilkley can consider themselves fortunate not to have conceded a penalty try. Presumably the offences were different and perpetrated by different players.
Finally the half-time whistle relieved the tension and provided the coaching team chance to restore some calm to proceedings.
Following a re-wire of his radio link to the referee assessor, Mr Garland got part two underway. It was no less calm.
The second half was illustrative of the chaos theory of rugby. Clearly Pontefract thought they still had a way back into the game. Just as clearly ILKLEY weren’t going to allow them back, but in their determination they crossed the rubicon of fair play rather too much for comfort. Maplesden saw yellow for an indiscriminate hand in the back of a scrum to stop a pushover try. The resulting penalty scrum was well defended and ILKLEY won a penalty.
Sigsworth returned. Archie Elgood came on for the sacrificial Cummins.
After yet another long distance foray into the Pontefract 22 from deep in his own half Dobson was found isolated as his back up brigade caught him up a tad too late. The relieving penalty gave Pontefract a lineout inside the ILKLEY half. Well won, the ball fizzed out to centre Tim Spears to score in the corner. 24-5. Still 25 minutes to go.
Ilkley won a penalty on half way. It failed to find touch. Morgan was cross with himself and as Pontefract tried to run it back he failed to get low enough in the tackle and he too saw yellow. The Dalesmen were down to 13.
Maplesden returned and quickly ILKLEY won a penalty on half way. The lineout produced another penalty in front and Dobson stepped up to slot the goal. Sensible decision. 27-5.
Yet another penalty put ILKLEY back in the Pontefract 22 with a lineout 5 metres out. A glimpse of the beautiful rugby of the first period put Walker in in the corner. The score effectively put the match to bed. Morgan was back on to put the kick over from the touchline. 34-5.
Another ten minutes of the chaos version of the game followed with Adam Booth following his mates into naughty chair.
Pontefract added two more tries in the final minutes of this absorbing encounter, the first a great run from half way by winger Lucas Ketteridge, the second a classic backs move out to the other winger Ciaran Tucker. Final score 34-17.
Whilst the beautiful back play got the headlines, the guys in the engine room deserve more than a mention in despatches. Sigsworth and his mate Jamie Slator held up the scrum against a bigger front row and the smallest man on the pitch, hooker Jack Popely was everywhere in the loose. Peter Erskine leaves nothing out there and Alex Powell seems to be growing in stature and confidence.
The back row of Jones (Gamble), skipper Joe Lowes and Booth never let their targets have an inch of space and secured several vital turnovers.
This ILKLEY side now have the momentum and with Ben Magee (injury) and Harry Harrison (RWC), Ollie Ham, Charlie Head, Tom Dickinson, Will Addyman and a stack of players in the 2nd XV looking for 1st XV places, selection will be a difficult but welcome conundrum along with trying to find a trigger that changed the dynamic of the game so suddenly and so dramatically.
This week’s clash with high flying York is a mouth watering prospect.
The club’s junior section will be providing half time matches to entertain the big crowd expected. After the game the young Dalesmen of the future will join the senior guys for a “social”.
Come down to join the Dalesmen’s sixteenth man. It’s quite a party!