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Ilkley scrap and scrape their way into Aire Wharfe Cup Final!

Aire Wharfe Cup, Wednesday 23rd April 2024, Venue: Stacks Field, Ilkley, Result: Ilkley 22 pts, Wharfedale 13 pts

This competition is always a showpiece for the adage about a game for everyone. The long, the short, the big, the small, the old and the young. This game was a classic example, Wharfedale’s starting fifteen in particular. Ilkley fielded a generally younger side including at least four recently retired stars of yesteryear.

The first ten minutes were spectacularly difficult for the large and vocal home support to watch with so many basic errors made along with an equal quantity of good possession.

This horror show was exacerbated by a propensity to concede penalties, the fifth one in five minutes produced a goal for the visitors. 0-3.

Ilkley hit back almost immediately with a try out scored by wrecking ball JH Johnson and superbly converted by Harry Smith. 7-3.

It took another penalty to put the ‘Dale back to within a point. 7-6.

Now the game settled down a bit and both sides played some enterprising rugby. It was ILKLEY who struck again, this time JH Johnson found himself with space on the left. A great looping pass was spot on and ILKLEY were 14-6 ahead after Smith again was deadly accurate from wide on the other side. 20 minutes gone and this game was bound to spring some more surprises. It didn’t let us down.

More enterprise from both sides was punctuated by errors and those wretched penalties the majority of which were authored by the home side. Six more were conceded before Wharfedale began to gain the upper hand. Several minutes of intense pressure was well defended and an escape was made. The resulting ILKLEY attack was stopped on the line by the gritty ‘Dale defense and, of course, ILKLEY conceded yet another penalty.

Wharfedale were back on ILKLEY’s 22 and several phases saw them within a metre of the try line. ‘Dale knocked on. The ILKLEY scrum was won but the clearance was charged down and ‘Dale were over under the posts. 14-13.

Hearts in mouth time at Stacks Field as the Green Machine went full bore with victory in their grasp. In their excitement it was ‘Dale’s turn to make unforced errors. 

Smith then missed his first goal kick in thirteen by a whisker but the opportunity to extend the lead had gone, for the moment only, as the home side now turned on the pressure. They were held out by excellent defending and, of course, more penalties, one of which led to a yellow card. But, undeterred and to their credit ILKLEY came back with a series of pick and go, pick and go and pick and go.

Then, at last, it was out wide for that much missed Chuckie Ramsay side step and pirouette to bag that much needed try. Smith couldn’t squeeze this one over, but there was daylight between the two sets of gladiators. 22-13.

A seriously dubious penalty on the ILKLEY 22 saw poetic justice as the kick hit the upright and bounced out. Three more penalties and two more yellow cards resulted in the twelve brave men in red hold out one more time as the now exhausted big men of Wharfedale battered the ILKLEY defence. 

Finally ILKLEY won a penalty to finish the match and claim their place in the final.

Make no mistake this was a seriously hard encounter between two contrasting but fully committed sides. 

There are conflicting opinions about the penalty count, but between 23 and 27 against ILKLEY and 5 for gives some pointers as to what will be required for the Dalesmen to retain this prestigious trophy.


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