Saturday 11th February, Ilkley 1st XV 36 pts, Cleckheaton 5 pts
Following their dismantling of West Bridgford’s challenge the week before, the Dalesmen knew that Cleckheaton were going to be an altogether different kettle of fish. Not only had they fallen to a 21.9 defeat at Moorend in early November, but their opponents also enjoyed a 13 point advantage in the league table, though only two places higher.
In the event though, Ilkley produced another highly competent display, again weathering the storm of a gritty first half, then to produce the goods in the second to run out worthy winners by 36 points to 5.
Ben Magee and Blake Morgan, on loan from Otley for the rest of the season, made welcome returns and both contributed hugely to the overall team effort. A special mention too to Chuckie Ramsay, whose metronomic kicking accounted for 21 of those Ilkley points, with three conversions and five penalties.
Cleckheaton were sorely disappointed with the penalty count against them, as indeed were Ilkley the week before, but Ramsay stuck to his task with an imperious performance.
Magee was quick off the mark to remind the Ilkley faithful what they had missed for so long with some typically mazy running, but it was Cleckheaton who scored first, when after just seven minutes Ilkley ran out of defenders on the left, allowing Jack Marshall to score. The conversion attempt hit the post, so the lead was just the five points.
Ilkley hit back to take a one point lead with two penalties, both conceded as Cleckheaton offended at the breakdown. Then Ilkley were adjudged to have pulled down the scrum, which allowed the visitors another sortie into the Ilkley 22. Magee stumbled after fielding the ball, but the Ilkley pack was there to help out and the full-back responded with a great break-out past the half-way line.
Unfortunately, the support was a tad slow in arriving and a penalty was awarded for holding on with a quarter of the game gone.
The two sides exchanged some high kicks before Ilkley Centre Kieran Wileyman was floored by a high tackle, earning the offender a yellow card. Ramsay punished the visitors further with his third successful kick.
Both sides came close for the remainder of the half and both sides were guilty of conceding penalties at the wrong time, allowing their opponents to clear their lines, but it was Ilkley who looked the better side as they went in for their half time tea, with the score at 9.5.
With Will Addyman on as the second half started, it took just four minutes and some stellar handling for Ilkley to increase their lead. A quick penalty taken by Magee took his side to 5m out. Cleckheaton conceded again and Ilkley took full advantage with another quick one. A great pick up by Ramsay helped put Ben Walker under the posts. 16.5 with the kick sailing over.
With last week’s hero Steve Costello joining the fray, Ilkley’s pack looked to be getting stronger and when Cleckheaton coughed up yet another penalty just over the half-way, the ball was kicked away earning Ilkley another ten yards. Ramsay said thank you very much and it was 19.5.
A forward pass stymied Cleckheaton’s next attack and on Ilkley’s next, following an Archie Elwood box-kick, a possible scoring opportunity was spoiled when a free-kick was not taken correctly as the game entered its last 20 minutes.
Elgood then swapped places with Morgan on the wing. Ilkley swept menacingly forward and Kodie Brook punched a hole in the Cleckheaton defence, Morgan on hand to crash over for the try. Ramsay’s kick increased the lead to 26.5 and Cleckheaton looked to be tiring.
An impressively destructive Ilkley scrum yielded yet another penalty, which Ramsay pulled wide, much to the disbelief on the terraces, but Cleckheaton seemed to have pressed the self-destruct button as they conceded another two in quick succession. This time Ramsay didn’t miss.
With just eight minutes left and with Cleckheaton looking dead on their feet, Ilkley needed to close out the game and this they did, starving the visitors of any possession. A bonus point looked unlikely though and there was in fact just enough time left for Morgan to go over for his second try on his return and for Ramsay to conclude his fine display with the boot with the last kick of the match.
This was a very, very impressive performance by Ilkley, who whilst still lying ninth, now enjoy a 15 point lead over third from bottom Paviors. The Dalesmen now have two consecutive away matches, starting next week with Doncaster Phoenix. Ilkley were kicking themselves after slipping to a 22.23 defeat at home in mid-November and with the South Yorkshire side just 4 points ahead, there’s a good chance that the two sides can exchange places next Saturday.