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Dalesmen fashion Cup Final victory from jaws of defeat

Aire Wharfe Cup Final, Tuesday 30th April 2024, Venue: Stacks Field, Ilkley, Result: Ilkley 23 pts, West Leeds 21 pts

The never say die attitude instilled throughout ILKLEY rugby sides really had to come to the fore as a spirited, well coached and skilful West Leeds side took advantage of the Dalesmen’s profligacy when they had the ball and failure to satisfy referee Chris Sheryn that they were sufficiently in tune with his interpretation of the complex laws of the game. (The approximate penalty count was 16 to West Leeds and 6 to ILKLEY.)

With the last vestiges of what felt like the first day of summer and the May Day fairground testing their hair raising rides in the adjacent field this game turned out to be a helter skelter of an encounter.

The opening salvos were all too comfortable for the large and vociferous Stacks Field regulars.

After what turned out to be rare penalty, ILKLEY’s Harry Smith barged his way down the wing and slipped a lovely pass to Max Jones for the first score. Smith’s hereto golden boot rattled the upright but 5-0 it was. Just 6 minutes on the magnificent electronic scoreboard which was almost outshone by the whirling fairground ride behind it.

West Leeds then showed us a glimmer of their wide game and came close before a knock on put paid to that foray.

The fleet footed flyer Harry Harrison then showed a clean pair heels to all but the last defender who stopped him well, but a deft flick to Ollie Dennis was enough to secure try number 2 for the Dalesmen. Smith was again off target from wide out. Ilkley lead 10-0 after 14 minutes. 

As the ILKLEY supporters sat slightly more comfortably West Leeds were looking ominously dangerous with a couple of good sorties into ILKLEY’s red zone.

They were rewarded with a penalty in front of the posts. 10-3.

Then in quick time ILKLEY were defending again. A touch kick to clear was returned from the terraces and a the throw taken quickly. Scrum half Ben McEwan walked in from the 22 to score. 10-8.

Then two more penalties saw the visitors add a goal to put them in front 10-11.

Ilkley momentarily lost their discipline and concentration but somehow they prevented West Leeds crossing the whitewash.

Finally relief as a West Leeds lineout was not straight. From the scrum the Dalesmen were pressing on the West Leeds line. Another scrum wide out, then another a bit closer to the sticks, the ball was finally whipped out to will o’ the wisp harrier Harrison who dotted down to give ILKLEY a half time lead, 15-11.

Some early ILKLEY pressure came to naught and some awful tackling presented West Leeds with the gift of a try, successfully converted to put the boys in blue back ahead. 15-18. Just seven minutes of the half gone.

Now it was edge of the seats stuff for the Dalesmen supporters.

Changes were made by both sides. 

Then horror of horrors, ILKLEY lost 2nd XV talisman Harry Smith who had made a seemingly great charge to the West Leeds try line. The referee blew his whistle and called Smith and skipper Jack Wolstencroft over for a discussion. The outcome was a red card for Smith, the offence, leading with his arm high into the tackler. 

Would the 14 Dalesmen be able to withstand this West Leeds side with their tails and their hackles up?

It was the rampant Max Jones who answered that question as he picked up a loose ball after West Leeds had squandered a lineout they had initially won. From the 10 metre line he burst through several tackles and bullocked over with a couple more defenders on his back to score and give his side the narrowest of leads. 20-18. 30 nervous minutes to go.

It took yet another penalty to restore the lead to West Leeds, 20-21 and yet another to test the ILKLEY players’ patience past breaking point as they were marched back twice. Schadenfreude saw the kick come back off the posts. Still a quarter to go.

A few (well, two) penalties now fell the Dalesmen’s way. JH Johnson was just wide from half way.

Inexplicably ILKLEY opted for a scrum instead of a kick to touch from just inside their own half. Despite clear superiority at scrum time the referee was reluctant to penalise what looked to many like penalty territory (and, with every respect, ILKLEY supporters have great affinity with such problems). Nothing was forthcoming though.

More penalties against ILKLEY frustrated their territorial gains but West Leeds couldn’t capitalise as poor handling and failure to throw in straight frustrated them.

There was an exchange of yet more penalties. First to benefit were ILKLEY, then it was West Leeds to profit from the referee’s judgement. 

From the West Leeds lineout ILKLEY’s jackalling finally paid off and his arm went up. Just a double check to confirm it was to the Dalesmen. This time Johnson’s kick sailed over from almost half way to edge the Dalesmen back in front. 23-21. 

Two minutes to play. Surely they would play it safe and in the West Leeds half. A clearance from the back of the last ruck of this enthralling encounter was knocked on. The scrum was won and a hefty boot towards the fairground put an end to proceedings.

Ilkley retained the prestigious Aire Wharfe Cup. 

Congratulations to this talented ILKLEY side and to West Leeds for their considerable contribution to a proper end of season Cup final.

The presentation by the hard working Yorkshire past President Mr John Riley was followed by noisy celebrations and great relief from the big crowd. 

The Aire Wharfe Cup will reside for another year in the Stacks Field clubhouse


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