Ilkley 29 v Middlesborough 24
The "Smoggies" from Teesside brought a chill wind as the temperature dropped to near zero. A crystal clear blue sky welcomed them and Stacks Field looked resplendent, as the hazy winter sun kissed the crisp frosted grass, creating an ethereal mist.
Due to the injury list and late backwards Ilkley had a reduced squad. This has become the norm, however the reintroduction of the BGS musketeers was a huge bonus.
Middlesborough meant business, arriving in plenty of time to get the journey out of their legs.
Henry VIII officiated for the first time this season and blew to open proceedings.
Middlesbrough gathered the kickoff and set up repeated ruck ball, running hard at Ilkley's well marshalled defence. No ground was gained and an early penalty was conceded 30 meters from their line. Rahmbo stepped up, however the attempt was short and wide of the sticks.
Ilkley maintained possession and were dominant in the early forwards arm wrestle. A penalty was kicked to the corner. The perfectly executed catch and drive lineout produced a try for Jean Pierre in the corner. Rahmbo slotted the conversion.
Confidence was high, however Ilkley struggled to exit from the kick off, conceding a penalty. This was kicked deep into Ilkley territory. Middlesbrough's forwards went to work and the drives ultimately resulted in Ilkley's defence crumbling and a try was scored, along with the conversion.
Ilkley were behind in a match they had complete control over. Middlesbrough returned the kick off high towards Head Boy Ballard who caught well and his mazy run put the home side back on the attack. Another penalty was sent into the corner for yet another catch and drive opportunity. This was Ilkley's strongest weapon and the execution was perfect. Once again the prolific try scorer Jean Pierre came up with the goods, driving over in the corner. The conversion was missed.
The half continued with Ilkley in ascendancy. A couple of half breaks from the backs provided good attacking opportunities. The third try was inevitable as Ilkley's pressure on the Middlesbrough line continued. Captain Gazeley pounced to score, once again proving deadly from six inches. The try was converted.
At this point Ilkley were cruising, however relaxed. Middlesbrough grasped the nettle and capitalised on another failed kick off exit. A penalty was conceded and the kick for the corner resulted in a reversed catch and drive opportunity. Ilkley's defence was non-existent, as the large pack crashed over. The conversion went wide.
At half time Ilkley were leading 17 - 12. They should have been out of sight.
Ilkley had completed 36 passes and 21 tackles, Middlesbrough 26 passes and 28 tackles.
Despite being warned in the halftime team talk that the next try was crucial, Ilkley conceded within a minute of the restart. The by now predictable kick from Rahmbo was charged down. The opposition player was airborne, with his arms aloft before Ilkley's 10 had gathered the ball. The ball bounced kindly for him and he kicked the ball through to score.
There was some controversy with regards to the grounding. Ilkley's stato, Noel Lambeth - Walk and supporters adamant the ball had been knocked on. Unfortunately Henry VIII was unsighted from the halfway line, so awarded the try. The conversion was successful, taking Middlesbrough into the lead.
Matters went from bad to worse as Ilkley contrived to self-destruct with very questionable defence. Middlesbrough were now bristling with confidence and once again powered over Ilkley's line. Fortunately the conversion was missed.
Game on. Ilkley needed its leaders to take charge. The match went into a different phase. Ilkley showed adventure and some excellent ball carrying from centres Shinn and unbelievable offloads from Ilkley's 12 maintained forward momentum. As an attacking force they are second to none. The Sainsbury's prop was hungry for work, as were the BGS musketeers. Ilkley moved into the opposition 22 and the Head Boy produced a dazzling run, weaving through tackles and soft shoulders he reached for the line and scored a fantastic try. Rahmbo slotted over, 24 all.
Middlesbrough once again exploited Ilkley's poor kick off exit and another charge down took them close to Ilkley's line. The forwards piled on pressure, however Ilkley's defence was improved, forcing a knock on over the try line. The large crowd breathed a sigh of relief!
Ilkley broke clear and scrum half Sonny McGuigan produced the break of the match, a show and go opened up space. He sprinted towards the Middlesbrough 22. On his right Fergus Ramarge was in support. A superb draw and pass put Ramarge away. The cover defence was gaining every stride, however he dived over the line for the match winning try! The crowd went wild as straw boater hats went airborne.
Middlesbrough came back strongly, however Ilkley held them out. A very entertaining match for the neutral, a bloody nightmare for the coaches.
The match stats - passes Ilkley 69 v boro 41, tackles Ilkley 45 v boro 56, penalties won Ilkley 8 v boro 10.
A great game to win before next week's league and Yorkshire Cup double header away at Harrogate. A much harder proposition, however Ilkley will improve.