ILKLEY are Champions of the North One East division with a game against basement side Bradford & Bingley still to play this weekend.
They achieved it in fine style at Consett against whom it had all started way back in September when the newly promoted side were put to the sword at Stacks Field, 82-0, taking the aggregate result to 186-0.
The Dalesmen had prepared hard for this match knowing a bonus point win would likely see them champions, but they could still be in second place should Driffield secure a bonus point win at Scarborough.
Coaches Rhys Morgan and Andrew Clithero were determined to avoid a banana skin. They and their team’s commitment on the training field certainly shone brightly here at Consett.
They put on an exhibition of rugby to please and amaze the large contingent of supporters swelled by the Ilkley under 16’s side who had provided the curtain raiser match beating the home side by 43-10.
Make no mistake Consett had learned from their season’s experience in the higher league and provided determined and stubborn opposition for the full 80 minutes. Today though the Dalesmen were unstoppable and pretty much unplayable.
Ilkley were solid up front where Nathan Hyde, Rob Sigsworth and Charlie Head provided the platform in the tight. Pete Erskine and Tom Dickinson controlled the lineout and provided the engine room grunt. Luke Gamble, Will Addyman and skipper Joe Lowes were solid in defence and responsible for some valuable turnovers when it mattered and initiated several of the moves that lead to tries, 4 of which came from behind their own line. Consett did get close on several occasions and were it not for that solid Dalesmen defence could have at least got on the scoresheet.
Inevitably it was the backs who caught the eye in this 16 try scoring blitz. Jack Maplesden’s inert knowledge of when and where to do what is a wonderful asset. Chuckie Ramsay has skills and spacial awareness to provide his backs with that little bit of space required. Kodie Brook and Kristan Dobson make an awesome centre pairing both possessing pace and size with Dobson’s eye for an opening and acceleration through it a thing of wonder. The two Harry’s, Boyd and Harrison have blistering pace and a great side step to beat the defender inside or outside. Finally JH Johnson at full back is sound in both defence and attack with his not inconsiderable bulk proving invaluable in initiating attacks from deep. Today’s replacements, hooker Ollie Ham, stand-off Benny King and back rower Jack Leibster slotted in seamlessly during the second half.
The tone was set in the first minute when Lowes was put through after a weaving run from deep and tries from Dobson, Harrison (2) had sealed the bonus point inside 10 minutes. Maplesden, Dobson and Harrison added tries to make it 47-0 at the break, Johnson having missed just one of his 7 conversions.
More of the same came in the second half with the wide flowing game dominating and the hard work close in creating 9 more tries. Hyde opened the scoring to great joy from his colleagues. Dobson (2), Maplesden (2), Boyd, Brook, Erskine to wild acclaim and finally Leibster added the rest. Only three conversion attempts sailed wide on a stiff breeze. The final score actually beat the electronic scoreboard which only had two digits. It was 104-0. A day to cherish and remember.
As it happened Scarborough raised their game, as they had to beat the Dalesmen in February, to beat rivals Driffield (95 points) denying them even a bonus point to allow Heath (96 points) to sneak in to second place. Cleckheaton (95 points) finished fourth and Old Brodleians (85 points) fifth.
The tension of the battle for the top four places has been the feature of the season, but the style and the skills of this Ilkley side has won admirers throughout the league and, in the end, they are thoroughly deserving champions.
There have been highs - the wins at Driffield, Old Brodleians and Cleckheaton and lows - the home loss to Pocklington. There have been close scrapes - at Malton & Norton and Pocklington. Doubles over all the top five bar Heath were exceptional results. Some big wins against good sides saw some brilliant rugby played.
The side selected for the Consett fixture was as strong as Ilkley have fielded this season but, make no mistake, there was strong competition for places and selection throughout the season has never been straightforward. This has been a team effort to be sure with many more than today’s 18 players playing a big part, several of whom will be disappointed not to have been selected for today’s game.
One sage noted that in all the years he has played for and supported Ilkley, the team spirit appears to be second to none. It has been a pleasure to watch.
They are very much a young squad with much to offer in their new adventure in a higher level (level 5 in the National pyramid). At present the exact make up and structure of the leagues has not been finalised but, if the draft version published after February’s fixtures is confirmed, Ilkley’s league could be defined as East of England - North East and East Midlands, with opposition ranging from Nottingham and Derby to Scunthorpe and Alnwick - not exactly what was intended - to reduce the size of geographical areas and therefore travelling distances.