HARROGATE V ILKLEY, 16TH DECEMBER 2023, Harrogate 13 Ilkley 18
Well, away to Harrogate was always going to be a big ask of the Dalesmen to make amends for their below par performance the week before, but with an astonishing, gritty display, that is exactly what they did.
Wooden Heart by Elvis was the smash hit of the year the last time Ilkley recorded a victory against their illustrious rivals -1961 - so it is no exaggeration to state that the win was historic. The travelling support just loved it and their hosts were generous in their acknowledgement that the better side had won.
The first scrum of the day was awarded to Harrogate and whilst the Ilkley pack looked solid enough, there followed a high tackle which resulted in a kick deep into the Ilkley 22. From the line, Ilkley offended again and this time, Rory McNab slotted the goal.
We were to hear a great deal of referee Tom Hurdley’s whistle, but Ilkley were the side to benefit next, as Harrogate held on in the tackle. Charles Morgan’s kick led to a line in the opposition’s 22, followed closely by another penalty for the visitors which Morgan despatched to level the scores.
The first try of the game came after a sweet move in the backs, with Ben Magee coming into the line at pace, then executing a delicate chip through the cover defence, which took the Harrogate backs out of the game. The ball stopped agonisingly infield, but Jordan Cummins’ hands didn’t let him down as the winger picked up the ball at pace and flopped over the line. Morgan’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
McNab kicked his second penalty after Ilkley were deemed to have prevented release and it was 6-5 after twenty minutes.
The whistle concerto continued and this time it was Morgan who benefitted, to put his side back in the lead.
Then a moment of genius. A steepling kick out of defence by Magee turned out to be a 50/22, a fact the Harrogate defence seemed totally unaware of. Not so the Ilkley backs, who had followed the ball at speed. A quick line by Kodie Brook found Kristan Dobson, who ran in unopposed under the posts to the bemusement of much of the crowd. Morgan’s kick made it 6-15.
Ilkley’s growing confidence took a blow when they were awarded a penalty, but felt obliged to give Mr Hurdley some ill-chosen advice. The penalty reversed, Harrogate found themselves in a strong attacking position in the Ilkley 22. A chip through the Ilkley defence by Oli Toomey was misfielded and the advancing pack pounced on the loose ball, lock Tom Steene claiming the try. McNab made it 13-15.
There was just enough time left for another penalty to Harrogate for holding on, but the kick signalled the end of the half and the teams repaired to the warmth of the changing rooms.
Magee opened the second half with a couple of trademark runs, each ending with a Harrogate penalty as Ilkley offended at the break down. Spurred on by their late first half try, the home pack turned the pressure up to eleven and Ilkley were having to defend as of their lives depended on it.
Harrogate clearly thought that the Ilkley defence would eventually yield and with a plethora of penalties in their favour, eschewed kicks at goal and opted for brute force.
Ollie Ham saw yellow as the pressure told, but Gate were kept out by an impressive display of modern-day smash hits from the 14 men.
Their pack did get the ball over the line from a tap penalty, but not to Mr Hurdley’s satisfaction and Ilkley were relieved to get the dropout, though at the cost of a yellow for Jamie Slator for the offence. Fortunately, this coincided with the return of Ham.
After what seemed to be an eternity spent holding their line, Magee broke out and kicked deep into the Harrogate half. A knock on spoiled a rare Ilkley attack, but on the next move, the home backs wandered offside and Morgan took the first points of the half after 25 minutes.
Leading by just the five points meant that the Dalesmen could expect more battering and the Harrogate pack duly obliged.
Ilkley coughed up more penalties, but still Harrogate opted for scrums or lineouts, all of which were repelled by some fearsome tackling. The Ilkley pack even won a scrum-penalty which was celebrated as if they’d scored and with good reason, as Magee’s kick went to 15m out from the Gate line.
With seconds to go, all Ilkley had to do was win that line and retain possession.This goal was achieved and for good measure, Harrogate conceded the umpteenth penalty of the day. Morgan’s kick was off target, but that was it, as Mr Hurdley’s whistle went for one last blast.
So, a splendid achievement by Ilkley in their gutsiest performance of the season so far. A thoroughly deserved win, a great welcome back for centre Elliott Morgan and extra satisfaction for his father, Rhys beating his old club for the first time.
The Christmas break is the opportunity to rest tired limbs and recharge batteries before the visit of bottom club, Sandal on January 6th. Bottom club perhaps, but the Dalesmen know that they have an away loss to avenge, so with that in mind, what a great way to finish the year.