Saturday 10th September - Stacks Field, Ilkley - Ilkley 6 pts, Alnwick 13 pts
Stacks Field played host to Alnwick for the first time since October 2019, since when England’s northernmost club have consolidated themselves at Level 5, finishing last season comfortably mid-table.
On the other hand, the Dalesmen had won at the last meeting in Ilkley and were anxious to recover from the slugfest of the week before against Heath. Unfortunately, the injuries sustained in that match had taken their toll on the Ilkley selection and it was a very different side that took the field for this encounter.
Before the matches on Stacks Field kicked off, all four teams that were playing that day gave a minute's silence in remembrance of Her Majesty The Queen.
After the whistle, Alnwick themselves quickly demonstrated how teams at level 5 operate, with that extra second’s speed of thought and action which Ilkley struggled to break down in the first quarter of the game. Of particular note was the support given to a tackled player, enabling slick offloads that kept the movement going.
With their first attack, the visitors stretched the Ilkley defence right and then left, but a knock-on prevented an early score. Then an Ilkley penalty failed to find touch, enabling Alnwick to get back down into the Ilkley 22. This time, there were no handling errors and prop Duncan Smith touched down for the first points of the day, Evan Moir’s conversion attempt drifting wide.
Ilkley surged back right from the kick off and a well-worked move found centre Kodie Brook at full throttle. Two sumptuous dummies later and the goal line beckoned, but somehow the ball wriggled free and the try with it.
With 15 minutes gone and with Ilkley starved of possession, all that could be done was to soak up the pressure with some fine tackling. A penalty awarded to Alnwick at the breakdown led to another crisp handling move, ending with winger Andrew Ord scoring in the corner. Again, the conversion was missed, but Ilkley were down 10-0.
Some sloppy handling and a couple of ragged lineouts didn’t help the Dalemen’s cause, but some nice interplay between Harry Harrison and the evergreen J-H Johnson led to the Ilkley pack driving over the line, but referee Kristian Garland signalled the ball being held up.
Back came Ilkley from the drop out and this time, scrum-half Will Taylor did manage to touch down, but his effort was disallowed for a double movement. However, there was no doubt that Ilkley had found their feet and there was no further score as the half-time whistle blew.
Harrison’s great take from the kick off might have led to something, but a kick ahead was collected by a grateful Alnwick defence. Sub Ed Brown intercepted a loose pass and whilst he was then hauled down, Alnwick prevented release and Ilkley found touch 10m from the opposition line.
Alnwick offended again at the break down and this time, Johnson nailed the kick to make it 3-10.
Possession now was more like the 50/50 it should be and both sides were striving hard to get the next score. A high kick from the Alnwick full-back was fielded well by Johnson, but in doing so, he collided with Luke Gamble, who unfortunately had to leave the field.
With order restored, Ilkley’s next attack yielded another penalty for holding on in the tackle and Johnson obliged to bring the score to 6-10.
The Ilkley faithful scented the possibility of a winning try coming, but try as they might, some unforced handling errors and scrappy lines meant that various moves broke down, but in terms of possession, this was Ilkley’s best period.
With just five minutes to go and at least a losing bonus point surely in the bag, Ilkley upped their efforts, but the Alnwick defence stood firm and then mounted an attack of their own. Desperate Ilkley defence kept them at bay, but in doing so, went over the top and conceded the penalty.
Alnwick clearly wanted to run the clock down and opted to kick for goal, this proving to be Moir’s only success of the day. 6-13 but that bonus point still there.
Ilkley’s hearts were in their mouths as the kick-off went straight into touch, but Alnwick seemed to have had enough and the attack came to naught. Ilkley earned a final penalty which took them to the opposition 22, but the defence held out and that was it.
Considering the changes forced on the selectors, this was a gutsy Ilkley performance. It was good to see Ed Brown back in Ilkley colours and young winger Ben Walker had an impressive debut. The pack held its own too, with skipper Joe Lowes leading by example, despite a very impressive looking black-eye.
Next week sees the Dalesmen hit the road to Nottinghamshire to face Paviors, an Old Boys team, currently lying below Ilkley in the league, but also with two points. To say this would be a good one to win is an understatement, but after this performance, Ilkley can travel with confidence.
Live coverage from Drystone Radio with our fantastic Andrew "Dobby" Dobson providing a play by play commentary is available to listen to for up to 30 days on the Drystone Sport Show Playback here.
You can see more match photos on Peter Clark's Ruggerpix Album here.