Saturday 23rd September 2023, Sandal RUFC vs ILKLEY RFC, Venue: Milnthorpe Green, Sandal, Result: Sandal 25 pts, ILKLEY 19 pts
Both these clubs had got their league season off to a shaky start. Ilkley with one outstanding victory and two defeats. Sandal with just 3 losing bonus points in the first 3 games played.
A victory here would be important to both as the league table takes shape.
Sandal kicked off down the slope (as they had in the 22-17 defeat here last February).
It became clear early on that the three “big lads” for the home side, two Thompsons, A. at lock and D. at number 8.
The Thompsons along with Jonny Garrity dominated the lineouts, Sandal losing just one for not straight, whereas Ilkley’s was less successful, several going astray. Whilst Sandal were strong at scrum time, apart from a couple of times they were pushed back and penalised ILKLEY managed a difficult day reasonably well. A. Thompson sat out in the backs for much of the game. His presence generally attracting at least two tacklers and the consequent space this created.
Notwithstanding Ilkley’s tackling was outstanding throughout with Keiran Wilyman putting in a huge shift and adding several vital turnovers to his contribution to proceedings.
Referee Mr Adam Robson kept a firm grip on proceedings and was, as instructed by the legislators, extremely vigilant on the height of the tackle.
It was a high tackle that lead to the first score. Sandal went for touch and threw in offline. Two ILKLEY scrums were won for Archie Elgood to clear to the 22. This time the lineout was good and prop Holland came at pace to touch down in the corner. Fullback Tom Hodson stroked it over. 7-0.
The Dalesmen hit back immediately. A tip tackle produced a penalty which Charlie Morgan put into the corner from deep. The lineout was secured and a series of phases concluded with Morgan setting up Floris van Oekel on the loop for a score under the posts. Morgan slotted the extras. 7-7.
Another promising ILKLEY attack was frustrated as they conceded consecutive penalties, the latter for a high tackle and in front gave Hodson an easy 3 points. 10-7.
Again from a promising position when a score looked likely, ILKLEY knocked on. Sandal cleared and a cruel bounce of the ball which somehow evaded the attention of the retreating ILKLEY defence was picked up by winger Fawcett. A superb counter attack proved unstoppable. A winger’s try in the corner. Ilkley were behind 15-7.
It took a period of gritty defence to keep Sandal out for the ten minutes to half time.
The Clithero/Morgan/Lowes coaching combination would surely have some words of wisdom and encouragement over the tea break.
The second half started ominously. Ilkley were penalised for holding on on their 22. Hodson took the gift. 18-7.
Now though those words at the interval seem to pay off.
Morgan kicked to the Sandal 22. The indomitable Luke Gamble charged down the clearance attempt and a penalty put the ILKLEY lineout to 5 metres out. It was won cleanly and followed by three phases inspired and finished with a try by the brilliance of skipper Ben Magee. Morgan converted. 18-14.
Getting close in games like this can be an Achilles heel for the Dalesmen and sure enough, it was. A high tackle on a dipping player (is the law an ass in such cases?) gave Sandal a penalty on the ILKLEY 22. The lineout was defended well but, sadly, van Oekel was injured as Sandal spun the free ball out wide. The subsequent lineout was driven and, with another free ball, they rumbled over to complete their try scoring. With Hodson’s conversion it was 25-14. Twenty minutes to play.
Harry Bolland replaced the Flying Dutchman, Jack Popely replaced Ollie Ham who had a shoulder injury and Pete Erskine was on for Jack Leibster.
The Dalesmen enjoyed their best period of the match piling the pressure on a Sandal side who ran out of ideas and steam in no little way due to the increased tempo and the visitors’ enterprise, skill level and fitness.
Ilkley went close before conceding for holding on but a Sandal forward pass gave possession back. Magee got to within a couple of metres. Will Marlow sniped and was stopped illegally. Some great rugby was repelled by the solid Sandal defence but again a high tackle penalty set up a fine try scored out wide by Bolland. Morgan was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt. 25-19.
The final quarter of an hour was all Ilkley’s.
Gamble and Wilyman’s jackalling was exceptional.
Ilkley pressed and came close but Sandal’s defenders stood strong. The final five minutes saw the Dalesmen camped in the Sandal 22. Gamble, Adam Booth and Jamie Slator battered the line and set up a maul under the posts. Surely a score was coming. But no. A little knock on at the back of the ruck coughed up a scrum.
Back came ILKLEY via a lineout on the Sandal 22 followed by two penalties. A scrum was the option for both. Both were won. More pressure on the Sandal line but the ball went wide and Rob Sigsworth was isolated. Mr Robson’s arm went up. Penalty. Time up.
Final score 25-19.
A losing point was scant reward for those last fifteen minutes and ILKLEY slip down towards the basement with only Alnwick (44-6 losers to Harrogate) and winless Cleckheaton below. This week rejuvenated and strengthened Scunthorpe (36-31 winners over Heath) are the visitors. This looks like a very different Scunthorpe from the side that lost narrowly at Stacks Field last season. They were extremely active recruiters during the close season, perhaps with memories (they would have to be long) of their time as a National league One side.
Kick-off is at 3 pm.
In the North one East league there are bolters at the top, Harrogate and York with 16 pts, Driffield and Blaydon with 15 pts. Looking up Cleckheaton have 1 pt, Alnwick 4 pts and ILKLEY 6 pts.
Meantime ILKLEY 2nd XV lost in the double header at Sandal 38-19, and the Centurions produced the solitary victory with a home win against Burley. The score a creditable 42-10.
The club is grateful to referee Graeme Hall for stepping up to the plate and allowing this game to happen.