Saturday 11th March, Heath RUFC vs ILKLEY RFC, Venue: Greetland, Halifax
Result: Heath 34pts, Ilkley 7pts
Whilst ILKLEY folk were contemplating a winter wonderland and fully expecting the penultimate league match of the season at Heath to join the growing list of West Yorkshire club matches to fall victim to the snow, the Heath chairman was mobilising a team of 40+ volunteers to mount a pitch clearing clearing operation of Herculean proportions. By the deadline of 10am the pitch was passed playable. Those plans to find a location to watch Wales vs Italy were rapidly abandoned, the team bus organised and supporters’ travel plans reorganised. The Dalesmen set sail for Halifax and an early 2.15pm kick-off.
Heath were anxious to get league points to cement their well deserved second place in the league a shot at a Twickenham place in the final of the new knock-out competition, the Papa Johns Cup.
In fairness the pitch was eminently playable though the heavy going conspired against the Dalesmen whose preference for good to firm was evidenced last week in their thriller against Driffield.
Heath’s big pack has served them well over recent seasons and, combined with some equally well endowed backs including the hugely experienced Chris Johnson, they are a significant presence in this league.
The Dalesmen were shorn of Nathan Hyde and Peter Erskine. Jack Popely coming in at hooker and Tom Dickinson stepping back into the second row.
The game itself was dominated by Heath’s big lads but ILKLEY played large segments of the game with ball in hand but failing to get close to the try line. While largely starved of good ball they defended like titans.
The game got off to an ominous start though. An over hit kick-off gave Heath a scrum on half way. They blasted the ILKLEY scrum backwards and Johnson was dead eyed with the resultant penalty. 3-0.
Heath scored again, this time a try after an ILKLEY knock on had taken Heath with a 50/20 to 5 metres from the ILKLEY line. The lineout produced a penalty. The lineout maul took four attempts before they crashed over with Seif Boussada claiming the score and Johnson the conversion. 10-0. 8 minutes gone.
Then ILKLEY showed the way to play open rugby in the mud with Blake Morgan and Ben Magee combining to run from deep and find speedster Ben Walker on his wing. Walker made ground before chipping over the defence and outpacing them to the touchdown. Chuckie Ramsay stroked over the conversion to make it 10-7 after 20 minutes.
The Dalesmen had plenty to contribute to the second quarter with Ramsay orchestrating solid open play. Keiran Wileyman, Kodie Brook, Magee and Morgan all with promising midfield ball were frustrated by a poor final pass or being flattened by a crunching Heath tackle.
However the dominance of the Heath scrum was crucial and regrettably Popely had to be sacrificed despite his excellent loose play and accurate lineout throws. Josh Pinder came on to add some ballast to the set piece.
Johnson put his side to 5 metres out. The lineout secured, Heath only needed one drive before a little pass out to Elliott Spiers on the wing secured the third try. With yet another on target kick, it was 17-7.
All of a sudden the brave ILKLEY resistance was crumbling as a virtual repeat was enough to secure the bonus point, hooker Alex McFadden claiming this one. A rare miss from Johnson and 22-7 was a reasonable reflection on the first 40 minutes’ slugfest.
JH Johnson succumbed to a thigh injury to be replaced by Jack Leibster and half time couldn’t come quick enough.
There is a history of amazing comebacks in this fixture and whilst not out of sight such a revival from the Dalesmen looked unlikely.
Hopes were further dented. An ominous start to the second half saw a Heath scrum on Ilkley’s 22 won with ease. Three phases off the back of the scrum saw no. 9 Dominic Walsh go over for an unconverted try. 27-7.
With 35 minutes to play ILKLEY had pride to play for. Now, ILKLEY are good at pride and their reputation for digging in and defending doggedly was now very much in play.
The tireless Tom Dickinson, excellent all season, and his lineout pal Alex Powell managed to secure all but a couple of their own throws. Max Jones, skipper Joe Lowes and Leibster put themselves about to spoil Heath’s attempts at building a big score and with Magee becoming a thorn, the Heath big lads’ threat was snuffed out until the final minutes of injury time when, in a rare exhibition of open play, Heath put the biggest lad Fergus Marsden in for a late try which Johnson converted to make the final score 34-7. Not the result the recent run of form had made seem possible but the conditions and the physical size advantage had conspired against Andrew Clithero’s men.
A mention must surely go referee Sam Potts who had an excellent match.
The Dalesmen have injuries to Joe Lowes, JH Johnson and Blake Morgan to worry about ahead of the grand finale to a fairly modest season against 5th placed York this weekend.
Heath need 2 points from their home fixture with league champions Billingham to overtake currently 2nd placed Driffield who completed their campaign by putting 106 unanswered points on Paviors. Scunthorpe, who in the surprise of the round beat Cleckheaton, to make next week’s fixture with Paviors decisive as to which of the two are relegated along with West Bridgford.
Papa Johns Community Cup
Following the completion of the league, clubs can look forward to a novel end of season knockout cup competition, the Papa Johns cup. Papa Johns have 450 pizza stores nationwide and are prolific sponsors of grassroots sport.
Check out their video here https://cdn.jwplayer.com/previews/eyZE86h3
There are four separate competitions contested by the three Regional 1 leagues in the “North” - North East, North West, Midlands
The three leagues are split into quartiles. League winners, runners up and (some) third play in the Championship. (Some) third, fourth and fifth play in the Plate. Sixth, seventh and eighth (Sandal, Cleckheaton and ILKLEY) play in the Shield. The lower teams play in the Bowl.
There are two “Northern” mini leagues of four mixed over the three regions. Each club will play the other. At least one home game is guaranteed. League points etc are allocated as the normal league system.
The winners of each of the two “North” pools play each other in a semi final to decide who plays the winner of the two South Regional 1 three leagues’ mini leagues in the final at a neutral venue, presumably a ground reasonably equidistant between the two finalists.
At this stage it is assumed all Regional 1 clubs have entered the competition and all will discharge obligations to play their fixtures.
The inclusion of the Midlands (and even North West) region is interesting because it brings new opposition into play. For instance Ilkley’s group may include Burton, Oundle or Stoke on Trent (remember them?) and Wirral, Stockport and Manchester. Nothing is settled yet. Look out for more announcements in the Gazette and on social media.
If you have understood all that, please award yourself a Papa Johns pizza! (Nearest stores - Shipley or BINGLEY). If you use code ILKP JCC2 you will not only get a 50% discount but also benefit the club too as the Club will receive a donation from that sale!
For more info check out their web page https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/playing/papa-john's-community-cup