Saturday 18th November 2023, Doncaster Phoenix RUFC vs ILKLEY RFC, Venue: Castle Park, Doncaster, Result: Doncaster Phoenix 10 pts, Ilkley 18 pts
It was welcome back to the vast space of Castle Park, Doncaster, the home of RFU Championship side Doncaster Knights where Phoenix are sub-tenants. It is a great set up with a full size hybrid playing surface and a ground capacity of around 6,500.
However the attendance for the Community game of no more than 100 souls gives the place a rather soulless feel.
Notwithstanding the Dalesmen have a decent record here and, with Phoenix badly needing to get their season back on its early season form when they topped the table for a couple of weeks, there was a fair bit of needle in the air.
The first ten minutes were indicative of the whole of the first half. Ilkley knocked on at a promising lineout. Phoenix did the same. The ILKLEY scrum found itself under pressure from a big Phoenix pack who must have have a 2 stone a man advantage throughout the front five forwards. But they were calm under pressure and from a scrum won inside their half Charlie Morgan planted a superb 50/20 to 15 metres out. From the lineout Phoenix were penalised for pulling down and Morgan got the first points on the board. 3-0.
The unfortunate ILKLEY skipper Joe Lowes succumbed to what looked like a nasty hand injury. Max Jones replaced him.
More assured ILKLEY defence was required to keep Phoenix at bay, mainly by forcing them into mistakes.
From a defensive scrum, ILKLEY forced a lineout inside the Phoenix half but a misguided throw gave the initiative back to Phoenix. Remarkably ILKLEY won a scrum penalty. Morgan slotted the goal from distance. 6-0.
The Dalesmen’s tails were up and chances began to open up. Jordan Cummins getting through a mountain of good work on the right. Donny scrambled clear with a kick to midfield. It was a gift to Ben Magee who gathered, made hard yards and chipped delicately over the defence, regathered the ball and made more hard yards before passing to Keiran Wilyman to charge in under the posts. Morgan added the extras. 13-0. Six minutes left on the half.
Phoenix responded forcing a knock on into an ILKLEY player off the restart. Their penalty looked to have failed to make touch but the lineout was awarded. Now the tremendous ILKLEY defence was called on. The rumble was eventually held up. A goal line drop out, then a turnover eased the pressure but only temporarily.
Eventually Phoenix forced a scrum penalty and Sam Brooke gladly took the three points. 13-3.
The restart gave ILKLEY opportunities as they spent much of the remaining minutes in Donny’s half. Despite creating scoring chances they conspired to butcher them with unforced handling errors.
The half time whistle left them staring at a wafer thin lead when they really should have been significantly ahead.
The teams disappeared into the bowels of Castle Park for their interval lecture from coaches Rhys Morgan and Andrew Clithero and Doncaster’s Glen Kenworthy.
Clithero made a significant change to the front row, debutant Sam Stoddart replacing stalwart Rob Sigsworth. It was a baptism of fire, the big Donny pack sensing his inexperience at this level. Better days will surely be ahead for this young man.
Kenworthy’s speech must have been Churchillian as the Dalesmen had a good 5 minutes to wait for their opponents to appear for the second period. Whatever Kenworthy said, it certainly changed the complexion of the match.
That said the first five minutes belonged to the visitors. Phoenix kicked long and dead. From a scrum won in the home half ILKLEY were pressing on the 22 with a lineout. Through several phases across the park right and then left speedster Ben Walker was on the charge with just that square foot of space he needs. He was felled short but not held and recovered to barge over for a great try. Morgan was just offline with his conversion attempt. 18-3.
A comfortable lead?, yes. A defendable lead?, yes. An impreganable lead, well this is ILKLEY!
From the restart Phoenix came out of the blocks like demons at last paying heed to Kenworthy’s exhortations.
Ilkley were rattled. They escaped twice mainly through their opponents’ mistakes, but then Phoenix’s Brooke returned the 50/20 compliment of the first half with a beauty of their own to 5 metres out. From the drive off a well won lineout they rumbled over for replacement prop the mighty Quin Leggot to score. Brooke added the extras. 18-10. Just over a quarter to go.
Alex Powell who had taken a knock and Charlie Head were replaced by Peter Erskine and Rob Sigsworth returned. Ilkley deployed their chaos approach to the game exacerbated now by a scrum under severe pressure. Phoenix joined in the game of chaos but failed to take advantage of any opportunities it presented, actually churning up a scrum penalty to the grateful Dalesmen.
As ever ILKLEY’s defence was super strong absorbing everything the Phoenix guys could conjure from the madness.
There were more interchanges which resulted in the front row restored to status quo.
As the frustration grew in the home side ILKLEY settled again winning a lineout on the Phoenix 22 and battering at their line through a good dozen phases. Then just as the ILKLEY supporters were removing their hearts from their mouths the Dalesmen coughed up the ball when going through the phases would have kept Phoenix pegged back in their half.
They put a big boot to the ball. It went over the top of everyone. Magee was winning the chase back. He collected and fell with the ball just short of his goal line. Phoenix number 8 was up like a shot and literally jumped on top of Magee. Had he taken a more considered approach he would have held him over the line to win either a penalty or a scrum. But, this is rugby.
All hell broke loose. Mr Tom Hurdley required all his experience and diplomacy to calm everyone down. Yellow cards for the offender Newall and one for ILKLEY’s Max Jones was one of many options.
Play resumed with an ILKLEY penalty. Phoenix had one more look at the ILKLEY try line, but another fantastic Morgan 50/20 put the cap on proceedings. A final eminently kickable penalty was eschewed in favour of touch and ending this rather unspectacular encounter with a good away win.
This weekend is a rest weekend. The many knocks, sprains, aches and pains will be getting maximum attention ahead of the clash with high flyers Driffield at Stacks Field on 2nd December, kick-off 2.15 pm.
ILKLEY’s 2nd XV pulled off an amazing comeback at Doncaster. Losing 19-5 at the interval they came back to win 33-19.
ILKLEY’s Centurions won a close encounter with North Ribblesdale 22-19.