Saturday 3rd February 2024, York RUFC vs ILKLEY RFC, Venue: Clifton Park, York, Result: York 25 pts, Ilkley 5 pts
A large crowd had gathered in the smart new stand at Clifton Park energised by the club’s position at the top of Regional One North East.
Despite having lost three key players to injury the previous weekend and a couple more to unavailability, they still had the firepower to put the Dalesmen to the sword in a match that always seemed a step too far for this (once again) changed Dalesmen side. There was a welcome return for Ben Magee, Charles Morgan and Alex Powell but unavailability had again caused a re-jig of the backs from the side that had so powerfully defeated a solid Pontefract side the previous weekend.
It would take all the stardust in mercurial coach Morgan’s magic bag to spring a result here.
Referee Mr Christian Garland got the match underway at the slightly later time of 2.30 with a, thankfully, lighter breeze swirling around the Clifton Park complex. Straight away York were gifted a penalty on half way but their lineout was disrupted and the Dalesmen, as is their normal plan, attempted to run the ball out of defence. As they reached their 22 there was an almighty clash of heads and ILKLEY captain Joe Lowes and his hooker Charlie Head were prone. Attended quickly by both ILKLEY’s and York’s physios they eventually were restored to their feet. Head left the field for the duration, Lowes pluckily resumed, but the incident seemed to knock the steam out of the Dalesmen.
Ollie Ham came on to replace Head.
A scrum penalty to ILKLEY gave some respite but the impressive York back row won a turnover, then they benefitted from two penalties and the unusual sight of the Dalesmen defence falling off first up tackles. Prop Lewi Jackson, a perennial tormentor and leader of the York “bomb squad” went on one of his rampages but lost the ball in the tackle. The relief was temporary with more tackles missed giving veteran fly half George Davies the opportunity to stroll over for a try to mark his 200th appearance for the York club. Liam Hessay converted. 7-0 after 15 minutes.
Hessay then added a further 3 points from a penalty after some poor ILKLEY handling and more missed tackles.
Then came a glimmer of hope as that elusive stardust was sprinkled sparingly over the ILKLEY team. It produced what was, by acclaim, the try of the match. A scrum was well won on half way and fully 17 phases later the ball was sent down the back line with a final looping pass to Ben Magee who showed his wonderful turn of speed to score wide out left. Charlie Morgan’s conversion attempt was just off target but 5-10 after 25 minutes had ILKLEY right back in the game.
Unfortunately the optimism was short-lived.
From the restart a bizarre knock on by an ILKLEY player was picked up by a teammate and Mr Garland correctly indicated penalty. In a flash the deficit was 8 points.
Ilkley then got their game together. A scrum on the York 22 was won. Several phases followed but the York defence was solid as a rock, holding the Dalesmen up on their line, then forcing a turnover when a score looked certain.
Another foray was knocked on in the act of scoring.
Ilkley ended the half with 14 men after JH Johnson was given a 10 minute break on the naughty chair for an unspecified offence on the ground. Their indomitable defence was necessary in spades to keep York out.
Half time was spent on the pitch, the trek back to the changing rooms being a step too far. Morgan and Clithero would now need to work their magic to pull this one out the hat.
Max Jones replaced Lowes early in the half and later Luke Gamble replaced the unlucky dynamo James Colclough whose nose got bent out of its elegant shape.
Ominously for the travelling support, Ilkley spent a large part of the second period defending their line. As always it was courageous and generally effective. If offence can be interspersed with defence, ILKLEY’s mantra of ‘defence wins matches’ holds good.
However York too know how to defend and how stop the opposition. Ilkley found it impossible to deploy their potent strike force and both Magee and Ben Walker had to take the circular route on the rare occasions they got chance to break cover.
York though broke the Dalesmen’s defensive wall twice more. The first was a great run round off the back a penalty scrum by York 9 Ferguson (who had only arrived at the club from Otley on the Thursday prior) for a debut try. 20-5.
The second, after another period of sustained pressure and magnificent ILKLEY defence, was finished by replacement Oscar Bell forcing his way over in the corner.
One statistic that the coaching team will not savour was the adverse penalty count 18 against, 9 for ILKLEY. But, there were positives. The lineout worked better. The defence was solid. There were flashes of brilliance, but on this day York were too good.
Final score 25-5.
A disappointing day in Eboracum for the men from Olicana.
York remain top of the table with a five point lead over Heath and Harrogate who both of whom have games in hand. Ilkley still cannot breath easy in the lower half of the table where the chasing pack are looking ever more ominous below. They have a 13 point margin over the bottom two teams, Doncaster Phoenix and Pontefract.
This week the Dalesmen make their third attempt to play Driffield at Stacks Field, the first two attempts being frustrated by a frozen pitch. Driffield currently lie 4th 17 points off the top but separated by a 12 point margin from the lower two thirds in this increasingly unpredictable league table.
A win would be a huge fillip to the club in its 2023/4 campaign.
ILKLEY’s 2nd XV grabbed victory at Moortown, 31 - 24.
ILKLEY’s 3rd XV lost at home to North Ribblesdale 2nd XV, 31-12.