Saturday 11th November 2023, Ilkley RFC vs Cleckheaton RUFC, Venue: Stacks Field, ILKLEY, Result: Ilkley 30 pts, Cleckheaton 28 pts
A lovely but chilly afternoon with Stacks Field surrounded by sylvan autumn colours, the harbinger of winter to come, greeted players and supporters of two clubs who have fought some serious battles over the years. Ilkley vs Cleckheaton is always anticipated with excitement.
A somber, respectful silence fell over the ground as the two teams lined up in remembrance of the fallen of all the wars since the Great War. This act rather gave some perspective to the battle on the pitch to come. How fortunate we are to be able to enjoy such days as this.
A large and distinguished group had wined and dined as guests of the ILKLEY Old Farts who were in the thirtieth year of their generous support of the club.
Ilkley came out on top by a margin of 2 points in an entertaining match which the Dalesmen had lead by 20 points to 3 after the first quarter, but it was the final action that clinched this crucial match.
The finale takes the headlines and is recalled as follows:
A drop goal by Cleck stalwart Dale Breakwell had squeezed the visitors into a one point lead with 3 minutes to play. Surely this couldn’t be yet another one point defeat.
A poor restart had been muscled up to the ILKLEY 10 metre line where Cleck coughed up a scrum. Based on scrummaging form in the proceeding 78 minutes, Cleck might have expected to win something from the set piece. However it was scrambled away and into the safe and reliable hands of Ben Magee. He was finally brought to ground in the Cleck half. The ball was fired out wide to the tireless Keiran Wilyman who was stopped in his tracks. The referee’s whistle blew. Penalty! But which way? Was it ILKLEY holding on in the tackle or was it Cleck not releasing? It took what seemed an eternity for Mr Shaw’s arm to make its signal.
Ilkley were the beneficiaries.
The question was asked - how long left Sir? This was to be the last play of the match. Clearly a kick at goal was indicated.
Charlie Morgan stepped up, calmly removing his head gear, gratefully accepting some liquid refreshment before placing the kicking tee just inside the Cleck half and half way between the centre spot and the grandstand touchline.
Another swig of the secret potion.
The ground once again fell silent. This silence was different. Nerves were jangling, hearts almost stopped beating. Some couldn’t watch.
Morgan planted his kicking boot under the ball. He looked up once to recheck his aim.
One, two three, four five steps back. Stop and recheck. A deep breath and relax the shoulders. Now his eyes were fixed firmly on the ball. Five steps forward and then the vital contact. The sound of boot on ball was audible, like a gunshot.
Up it went. It was on target, but was it long enough? The Dalesmen assembled behind Morgan knew it was good and their whoops of joy were quickly joined by those massed on the terraces and on the balcony.
The scoreboard now shining brightly in the disappearing sunshine showed the final score 30-28.
Cleck were deflated. The Dalesmen had snatched victory from their grasp.
The preceding 79 minutes were full of entertainment and plenty of good open rugby by both sides.
From kick off Wilyman looked lucky to concede nothing worse than a penalty for a tackle in the air.
Then ILKLEY were on the back foot inside their 22 and somehow turned over the Cleck ball. The two Bens, Magee and Walker combined well to win a penalty on the Cleck 22. Morgan obliged. 3-0.
A lineout lost was rumbled by Cleck to the ILKLEY line and then a scrum pushed backwards were ominous signs. The scrum penalty was punished by Breakwell. 3-3.
The Dalesmen then had a purple patch. First a scrum was held well and a lineout won on the Cleck 22. They were forced back but Morgan broke to half way and suddenly Kristan Dobson was released down the left. A clever chip over the Cleck defence was fumbled on the Cleck goal line and Dobson swooped to touch down. 10-3 with the Morgan provided extras.
A couple of minutes later a Cleck seemingly high tackle was ignored by whistleblower Mr Andrew Shaw. The ball came back to Magee. Those twinkling feet and weaving sidesteps beat three. Dobson and Walker combined to notch a proper winger’s try, Walker going under the posts for Morgan to slot the goal. 17-3.
A yellow card for winger Jack Marshall didn’t help Cleck’s cause but ILKLEY failed to capitalise.
Morgan was then on target with another long distance penalty kick to make it 20-3 to the Dalesmen.
With only a quarter gone the large crowd sensed more was on the cards but the seasoned ILKLEY supporters knew better than that. The fat lady had barely tuned her vocal cords.
Cleck got their scrummaging hats on ably lead by the Piper brigade with Andy at the coalface and Dickie at the base. An ILKLEY scrum went into reverse. The resulting Cleck penalty put them 5 metres out. The lineout was rumbled over for the first of Cleck’s four tries. 20-8.
Jamie Slator replaced Rob Sigsworth up front.
The ILKLEY scrum was still in trouble though. Ilkley were pushed off their own put in.
Cleck forced ILKLEY back to their own line courtesy of yet another penalty. The ball went wide this time and ILKLEY’s defence held firm. It was sent back wide for a score in the corner and the ever reliable Breakwell converted. 20-15.
Cleck butchered a fine chance after a dubious penalty won by the experienced and wily Richard Piper was taken quickly and knocked on after several promising forays at the solid Dalesmen defence.
Half time. Time to gather breath and thoughts and fire up the engines for what was going to be a tough battle to stay in front for the next 40 minutes.
And so it was.
A Breakwell penalty goal made it 20-18 after 10 minutes.
Pete Erskine came on for Adam Booth.
Dobson almost repeated his chip and chase but was just beaten to the touchdown. A goal line drop out turned play round and after a couple of penalties Cleck rumbled a lineout to ILKLEY’s line. They were held up. Ilkley had the pleasure of a goal line drop out.
Max Jones replaced skipper Joe Lowes.
The Dalesmen won a scrum midfield. The ball went wide and after several great plays Magee found some space, but Magee finds space where ordinary mortals wouldn’t.
He too tried the chip and chase and when all seemed lost his incredible pace took him to touchdown a foot before the dead ball line. Try! Morgan slotted. 27-18. 20 minutes to play.
This match surely still had twists and turns left in it. It didn’t disappoint.
A penalty lineout on ILKLEY’s 22 followed by a brilliant rumble set up a Cleck score to leave ILKLEY with just a two point advantage. 27-25.
Then came that hair raising, nerve jangling finale. Cleck thought the drop goal had won it. Morgan didn’t agree.
This week it’s Doncaster Phoenix vs ILKLEY at Doncaster Knight’s Championship ground Castle Park. Always a tough fixture. Support in the cavernous surroundings is as always very welcome. Let’s hear the noise.
ILKLEY’s second XV visited Harrogate after a late reversal of venue. They came away with a great win under their belts. Celebrations lasted long into the evening.