Saturday 18th February, Doncaster Phoenix 16 pts, Ilkley 1st XV 26 pts
The Dalesmen’s renaissance continues apace with a very solid away win at Castle Park, home of both Doncaster Phoenix and Knights, though Peter Kay was not in evidence. The bonus-point win moved Ilkley one place up the League and closer still to mathematical safety.
Phoenix might have saturated Ilkley’s chips five minutes from the end, when a simple looking penalty was pushed wide by stand-off Julian Lesczcynski, who hitherto had nailed each of the four kicks presented to him. The miss cost his side a losing bonus point and eighth position, as they now lie one point behind Ilkley.
Again, a strong second half performance and judicious use of replacements won the day for Ilkley and it was heartening to witness how well this side has developed after its uncharacteristically shaky first half of the season.
Ilkley’s kick-off went straight into touch and at the scrum restart, the Phoenix pack looked ominously strong, winning a penalty, kicked to the visitor’s 22. Not straight at the line gave Ilkley the put in and this time, the Ilkley pack looked solid and they stayed that way.
The next twenty minutes produced some nice rugby from both sides. From Ilkley’s point of view, Ben Magee and Blake Morgan combined well in a promising moved that broke down with a knock-on and the sides exchanged several penalties, as they each gave Referee Harry Groves plenty to officiate upon.
The stalemate was finally broken when Ilkley offended well within kicking distance and Lesczcknski kicked the goal.
Phoenix kept knocking on Ilkley’s door and after a good run by centre James Wright to the Ilkley 22, Ilkley’s backs strayed offside and it was 6-0 to Phoenix.
With five minutes to half-time, Magee came up with the goods, bursting through the centre and running round a bemused defence to score on the left wing. Chuckie Ramsay’s kick was just wide to the right.
Phoenix had another foray into the Ilkley 22, but the defence held out with the score at 6-5 to the hosts.
The second half did not start well for Ilkley, as the kick-off was knocked on, deep in their 22. Phoenix duly won their put in, but the Ilkley front row was adjudged to have stood up and that was another three points for the seemingly infallible Lesczcknski.
This setback certainly galvanised the Dalesmen into action and they entered something of a purple patch over the ensuing quarter of an hour.
First, a Phoenix clearance was a fielded by Magee, who again waltzed through the defensive line. As the cover drew close, a kick ahead bounced high over the goal line and Ben Walker was first on the scene to touch down. Ramsay made the best of a difficult kick and Ilkley led for the first time in the match.
Then it was flanker Max Jones’s turn to show a clean pair of heels to the Phoenix defence, followed by an equally impressive charge from Steve Costello, who had replaced J-H Johnson at half-time. This time, skipper Joe Lowes was on hand to take the pass. There was still a lot of work to do, but that work was done well and Ilkley had their third try, converted by Ramsay to make it 9-19.
A promising Kodie Brook break faltered with a forward pass, but when Phoenix cleared from the scrum, the ball fell into the grateful arms of Walker who countered. Unfortunately, his kick ahead rolled dead.
Just two minutes later, a carbon-copy take by the Ilkley left-wing was shovelled over to Magee at speed. With Brook in support, the ball eventually found its way to Ramsay, who had popped up on the right wing. A sprint, a great hand-off and over he went in the corner for the try-bonus. He kicked the goal too and Ilkley looked out of sight at 9-26.
The purple patch faded to more of a mauve hue for the last fifteen minutes and it was unfortunate that when trying to run out of defence, a pass was intercepted by Phoenix scrum-half Marty Drennan who made the run-in with ease. Over went the kick and it was 16-26.
The Ilkley faithful were shuffling round a bit in their seats now. Luke Gamble had to leave the field and the a yellow was flashed to Nathan Hyde for killing the ball. Whether the Ilkley prop was actually the guilty party will never be known, but Ilkley were down to 14.
Phoenix threw the line-out ball too far and it was collected by a grateful Costello. Two Magee penalties took his side to the half-way line, but when Phoenix turned the ball over, it was their turn to break out and win a penalty - that penalty - on the Ilkley 22 as the clock went into injury time.
That was it so far as Phoenix were concerned and it was left to the visitors to put the game to bed when they were awarded the final penalty of the afternoon. The line won, Morgan hoofed the ball into touch and that was it.
Results elsewhere saw Billingham win the league with a big win against Ilkley’s next opponents, Sandal and the bottom three clubs all losing. West Bridgford look doomed, but Paviors and Scunthorpe could both still escape the drop. But more importantly, Ilkley now look safe and even the prospect of Sandal away should hold no fear for this blossoming side.