Ilkley Rugby Club suffered a close defeat at the weekend in the first League match of the 2022/23 season after their League win and promotion. Saturday 3rd September 2022 - Stacks Field, Ilkley - Ilkley 14 pts, Heath 15 pts This was the third meeting of these sides in the past 12 months. That only three points separates the aggregate scores of the three encounters tells the tale of how closely matched they are. 31-31, and a 8-10 loss at home last season together with this single point deficit has however yielded 10 league points for Heath and just 4 for the Dalesmen.
This was a full on titanic battle with ILKLEY looking the fitter and enterprising, while Heath had the edge on physicality and bulk. Both sides spent long periods battering at each other’s line. Both sides scored two tries a piece and neither could have complained about the result whichever way it had gone. Ilkley flyer Harry Harrison opened the scoring with a beautifully worked try following a great break from debutant scrum half Will Taylor with only 5 minutes gone. This after Heath squandered an opportunity and their debutant fly half Chris Johnson was given a ten minute rest by referee George Ounsley. Jack Brown added the extras. Ilkley continued to show some silky skills but a loose pass gifted Heath an opportunity to counter and, with a penalty coming, Matty Hallett chipped through and touched down. The conversion slid wide. 7-5. Ilkley had chances, notably from Harry Boyd from a hack through, then a great opening created by Taylor frustrated by a penalty for crossing. The rock hard ground and the searing pace of the game began to take its toll with Heath exhausting their bench and Dalesman Boyd’s hamstring troubling him. Rob Sigsworth was taken off for a head injury assessment. Nat Robinson took his place up front. Heath then got their backs moving with Johnson demonstrating the experience gained as an ex-Lancashire captain and recent seasons at Sale FC in National 1. Play went left then right and Joe Morrison crossed for the try. Johnson’s conversion was good. 7-12. As the half drew to a close ILKLEY had a golden chance off a lineout close in after a penalty was conceded, but the ball was dropped in the act of scoring. The interval was a welcome chance to settle the nerves and give the coaches a chance to advise and cajole. Jack Leibster replaced Max Jones in the back row, but it was the tireless skipper Joe Lowes whose break to Heath’s 22 gave hooker Charlie Head a clear sight of the line and with a 25 metre burst, he scored under the sticks. Brown obliged with the simple conversion. 14-12. Boyd’s hamstring finally took its toll. Harry Smith replaced him. The thirty minutes that followed were attritional, blood and guts rugby of the highest order, albeit splattered with forced and unforced errors from both sides. Both sides had an unsuccessful shot at goal from difficult angles. Injuries took further toll on both sides and it was whilst ILKLEY were camped on Heath’s line that Nat Robinson looked to have scored but suffered a serious neck injury which held up play until he could be safely stretchered off. That led to uncontested scrums and ILKLEY a man down for the remaining ten minutes. Jones returned for the doughty Tom Dickinson. Heath began to build a head of steam. Ilkley’s solid defence held firm but the seemingly inevitable penalty was coughed up as the Heath steamroller battered the ILKLEY line. Johnson’s kick sailed through and Heath were back in front 15-14. A couple of minutes remained and try as they did there was no further score for the unlucky Dalesmen. Of the debutants, prop Ed Martin had a sound game. He won’t find much opposition during this campaign. Will Taylor looked the real deal at scrum half and teamed up well with returnee Matty Sheard. That looks like a promising combination. Special mentions here for Pete Erskine and Will Addyman whose presence was key both in the set piece and in loose play. Also a very special compliment to young whistleblower George Ounsley who is singled out to progress up the referee ranks. On this performance the progress won’t be long in coming. There will be concern in the Dalesmen’s camp this week as the injury toll is assessed by the physiotherapy team ahead of this weekend’s home fixture against Alnwick. Alnwick took their place in level 5 several seasons ago and have put together a formidable and consistent squad. Kick-off is at 3 pm. Ilkley’s 2nd XV also had a tough assignment against a strong Heath second string. They too suffered a narrow defeat 15 - 7. Lots of promise in that fifteen with several young men getting their first taste of senior rugby. The Ilkley squad have lots to look forward to this season with promising players, strong tactics and a budding fan base. See the next Ilkley Rugby Club 1st XV match against Alnwick Rugby Club on 10th September at Stacks Field, kick off 15:00, all welcome!