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Dalesmen fail to take their chances as Woldsmen go second

Saturday 24th February 2024, Ilkley RFC vs Driffield RUFC, Venue: Stacks Field, Ilkley, Result: ILKLEY 17pts, Driffield 37 pts

With the rare sight of the sun on a crisp February afternoon there was mild optimism in the air that ILKLEY could maintain their recent form and their tendency to spring victories over the East Yorkshiremen. 

This was the fourth attempt to stage the encounter, the first three having been postponed due to frost or waterlogging.

The amazing ground staff had prepared a surface that was good to firm, soft in places which would suit the running abilities of full back Ben Magee, Ben Walker and the returning Harry Harrison. Driffield though had their eyes firmly set on regaining top spot in the league and, with their versatile back line in which all seven can play in all seven positions, they were confident enough to start with captain Adam Brankley, the league’s top try scorer, on the bench.

Referee Mr Thomas Hurdley, a positive veteran at this level and a regular whistleblower at Stacks Field got the game underway and immediately set the tone with a penalty for not releasing to the visitors on the ILKLEY 10 metre line. The league’s third placed points scorer Kalani Grant coolly stroked it over for the goal. 0-3.

Ilkley came back with a bang, exerting huge pressure on Driffield’s defence before Charlie Morgan, Jordan Cummins and Jamie Slator combined to fashion a great try under the sticks. 7-3

Driffield hit back with a 50/20 and a well won lineout which was driven to 5 metres only to be stopped illegally. A further lineout and drive produced the score and an inch perfect conversion from Grant. 7-10, a lead which would never really be threatened despite the gallant efforts of the Dalesmen.

Both sides punched holes in the other’s defence. For ILKLEY Harrison looked a real threat and went close twice, but twice possession was butchered on the line. 

Ilkley lost Alex Powell with a leg injury. Stephen Costello replaced him and almost immediately damaged his hand but, with no other replacement, he courageously battled on.

The first of innumerable front row interchanges saw Head take a rest to allow the ever reliable Josh Pinder some game time.

Charlie Head was through onto a loose Driffield pass but his hooker’s pace was not quite enough and his pass to no one ended up nowhere.

All the time Driffield’s confident and occasionally exuberant style of rugby was gaining the upper hand. Fortune gave them another score when a knock on went unseen by Mr Hurdley. The well worked try in the corner was followed by another near miss when ILKLEY’s defenders forced a knock on on the line. Those ILKLEY defensive lines are something to behold. 

The half time score was 7-15. It just about indicated the balance of power in this full-on encounter.

The interval cuppa and exhortations from coach Andrew Clithero would be needed to plant some renewed belief to his charges. They were still in this game he told them.

The work rate of Jamie Slator, Ollie Ham Tom Dickinson and Adam Booth and the effective jackalling of the back five with human dynamo Joe Lowes, Max Jones in support could turn the game round.

Magee failed to reappear after the interval, a tweeked hamstring causing concern. Will Marlow replaced him. Ominously, the Driffield skipper Brankley took up his spot in the back row - a mark of respect to the ILKLEY threat.

The half was 3 minutes old when a great break by Walker from his new slot at full back set up some great phases and a ball sent wide left for the hooker turned wing Head to score from 10 metres. Now the Dalesmen were right back with just 3 points between the sides. 12-15.

Driffield hit back, camping on the ILKLEY line albeit well defended, but a marginal offside produced a lineout from which Brankley went over to score. Grant added the extras. 12-22.

Then a lost lineout on Driffield’s 10 metre line cost ILKLEY dear as Driffield powered back into the ILKLEY 22. Ilkley were penalised for offside and Grant added the goal. 12-25. 

The Dalesmen were down but not out. There was a great break from Eddie Brown which should have produced a try but a wild pass and a knock on frustrated that opportunity.

The physios were working overtime as bodies were being repaired all over the park.

The clock was eventually restarted. Driffield had the scrum and cleared to their 22. The ILKLEY lineout wasn’t straight and Driffield were in full flow from the scrum. The pass to their winger, Ben Blacker, was swooped upon by ILKLEY’s Cummins and he made all to score. Ilkley were back in it. 17-25. A quarter to play.

Captain Brankley then decided it was time to step up the pace and the scoring as he added two more tries, the first created by full back James Watts who burst through a hole in the Dalesmen’s defence to set up the try. The second from a 5 metre scrum as he forced way over to score wide out after Mr Hurdley had taken a good look and had  a good think about held up. All of sudden it was 17-37. 

Driffield were too competent and too controlled to give ILKLEY any hope of a result, a four try bonus point being the best outcome the Dalesmen could aspire to.

They certainly gave it their best shot with a series of phases created by Brown but in the end the creator turned butcher as an ambitious pop pass eluded all but the onrushing Driffield defenders.

Then an ILKLEY lineout was taken quickly and short and Ollie Ham darted to line to wild acclaim from the crowded grandstand only to be thwarted by a flag for foot in touch. No try, no bonus point, no shame. Indeed, the table doesn’t lie! The Dalesmen were beaten by the better side on the day. 

Ilkley face a resurgent Cleckheaton away this weekend. Cleck will be desperate to avenge their last kick of the match defeat at Stacks Field early in the season. Doncaster Phoenix visit Stacks Field on 16th March and then comes the return fixture with Driffield. A fortnight later Heath come to ILKLEY for the finale to the season.

Driffield move confidently into second place in this topsy turvy league, Heath having lost at home to Alnwick which leaves ILKLEY 6 points adrift of 5th place.

In terms of quality and strength the top two, York and Driffield look strongest even though Harrogate have sufficient games in hand, mainly due to the problems of their waterlogging  pitch at the Apollo Capital stadium, to make up and overtake the points difference on leaders York. 

Who goes up to the heady heights of National 2 remains anyone’s guess.

Who goes down is still well in the balance. Doncaster Phoenix with 25 points and Pontefract with 23 can still catch Sandal (35), Cleckheaton (37), Scunthorpe (37), Blaydon (40) and dare we say it ILKLEY (43), though that is a long shot.


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