9th December 2023, Ilkley v Alnwick, Stacks Field - Result Ilkley 19 Alnwick 20
After a week of emigration weather, there must have been doubt in some people’s minds that this match would go ahead, as the heavy rain continued to fall. Strong gusts of wind didn’t help much either, making accurate kicking very difficult indeed, especially in the second half.
Back in sunny September, Ilkley had stunned the home crowd with a bonus point win in far-away Alnwick, England’s most northerly club. This time however, the Northumbrians fielded a considerably different side and in what was always going to be a knife-edged affair, they took the spoils by the narrowest of margins, beating the Dalesmen by 20 points to 19.
All the players did their best in the poor and constantly deteriorating conditions and it was a tight game throughout. Inspirational Ilkley skipper, Joe Lowes, celebrated his hundredth game for the Club.
Ben Magee failed a late fitness test and was replaced by veteran J-H Johnson, whose thoughts of a mud-bath on the second team pitch were dashed by the late call-up. His side’s main problem though was a rash of yellow fever, referee Mr Doig issuing three to the Dalesmen.
The disruption caused by playing with 14 men for 30 minutes in an encounter of this nature was surely the main reason that Ilkley found it difficult to get a grip on the game and play throughout with the authority that showed only in fits and starts.
Alnwick resisted early Ilkley pressure and countered with a bullocking run by their Number 8, Farmer who made a good 50m, swatting off several attempted tackles. When he was eventually felled, the ball was recycled quickly and passed out left. What looked to be a certain try was halted by that man Johnson, but Mr Doig deemed the tackle to be high and awarded a penalty try on 8 minutes.
To add insult to injury, Johnson was given a ten minute breather too.
Ilkley redoubled their efforts and having repelled a couple of enterprising attacks, Kristan Dobson made the first of several superlative breaks, passing the ball to Charles Morgan as he was tackled. Morgan then chipped ahead and wingman Jordan Cummins won the race to touch down. Morgan’s conversion attempt hit the crossbar and bounced back into play, but it was now 5-7.
Alnwick stormed back and some artful manoeuvres in the backs set up right-wing Spark who seared through the middle of Ilkley’s defence for the touchdown, team-mate Moir adding extras to double their score.
It was all hands on deck now for Ilkley as Alnwick sought to capitalise on their marginal superiority at this stage of the game. A couple of lost lines didn’t help, but when Alnwick knocked the ball forward on Ilkley’s 22 there was Dobson on hand to save the day. Another blistering run took him close to the Alnwick line, but when he was brought down, some skullduggery at the breakdown saw Mr Doig flash another yellow, this time to Farmer.
Now the Ilkley pack took over and after four well controlled phases, Tom Dickinson crashed over under the posts. Morgan’s kick made it 12.14 with ten minutes to go till half-time.
More indiscipline from the Dalesmen cost them two penalties, the second of which was a Morgan deliberate knock-on which saw the stand-off join Farmer in the changing rooms. In some disarray now, another penalty was conceded and this time Moir kicked for goal to make it 12-17.
Ilkley’s misplaced Christmas spirit gave Moir yet another chance shortly before Mr Doig blew for half-time, but this time, the kick was well wide.
The second half started with a scrum to Alnwick in Ilkley’s 22, but a knock on the gave the Dalesmen the put in. Alnwick coughed up a penalty which Morgan kicked to half-way. A late tackle from Alnwick ensued and Morgan’s boot took his side to 10m out.
A perfect catch and drive by the Ilkley pack and this time it was Jamie Slator to claim the honours. Morgan’s kick put his side in front of for the first time at 19-17.
Could Ilkley now hold their nerve and consolidate ? Unfortunately not, as Alnwick were in no mood lie down and surged back into the attack. Desperate defence by Ilkley saw Max Jones get Ilkley’s third yellow of the day and Moir’s simple kick wiped out Ilkley’s short lived lead.
Both sides were playing their hearts out in dire conditions, with the light rapidly growing dim and the gusts of windy rain increasing by the minute - and there were twenty to go.
Morgan’s drop goal attempt was a bit short, but two minutes later, a penalty was awarded on the Alnwick 22. The kick looked good, but then the wind took over and there was no change to the score. Then another penalty to Ilkley, but a far more difficult proposition, which Morgan couldn’t capitalise on.
As the day fled westwards, it was all Ilkley and after Mr Doig adjudged a tackle on Dobson to be high and after another flash of yellow, Morgan was given the chance to win the game with what looked to be an eminently kickable penalty on the Alnwick 22. The kick was sliced though and despite some heroic last minute attempts to storm back, the Dalesmen simply ran out of time, the whistle for no side sounding 3 minutes earlier than the electronic wizardry on the far touchline suggested.
A losing bonus point was scant reward for Ilkley’s three tries to two, but that’s how life is in this league. Mid table is a comfortable enough place to be, but the Dalesmen can do better. Bouncing back at Harrogate next week is a big ask, but as they say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.