Sean Crannigan reports on Ilkley vs Doncaster Phoenix on Saturday 12 November at Stacks Field.
Ilkley vs Doncaster Phoenix, Ilkley 22pts, Doncaster Phoenix 23pts
The gloom that arrived in the Wharfe Valley overnight was preceded by several hours by the gloom over Stacks Field, as the Dalesmen’s deserved, but slender 4 point lead with five minutes to go vanished with the last move of the game. Phoenix couldn’t believe their luck and the contrast in emotions could not have been more marked.
The well-lunched crowd, including a few dozen ex-players, was treated to a ding-dong battle, as befitted two sides at 9th and 10th in the league for whom victory had been deemed essential to keep their respective seasons on track.
Phoenix’s pack looked to have the avoirdupois advantage over their host’s, but Ilkley’s pack always looked fitter and throughout the game, never really looked like succumbing to brute force, though the first score on the board came as the home defence turned off for a monument allowing Number 8 Harrison in to score. Full-back Mc.Coll converted well, having previously sliced a penalty. J-H Johnson’s penalty miss was scant reward after some good Ilkley play, but the Dalesmen responded well and after an impressive bullocking run from Steve Costello and slick hands from Skipper Chuckie Ramsay, Ed Brown put Kodie Brook in at the corner. Johnson’s conversion failed, but Ilkley were back in the game. Manchester referee Jack Moorhouse then penalised Ilkley for a prop bending the knee, the home side having won their own put in, McColl improving his side’s score to 10 points. Immediately afterwards, Phoenix replicated the offence and Johnson brought the score back to 8.10, whilst throwing no light whatsoever on the dark arts of the front row. Ilkley had another two failed penalty attempts to bring the score back to something resembling the slight superiority they enjoyed, but Harry Smith’s long-range attempt had the length but not the line and then Johnson’s apparently easier attempt drifted right, though Phoenix had a centre removed for ten minutes for the obstruction that earned the penalty. Phoenix obligingly knocked on from the second half kick-off and there followed more errors from both sides, though Ilkley were just about on top. Phoenix missed a penalty chance and then a great break-out by Ben Walker almost led to a try. Another similar break out, led by Charlie Head and improved by an uncharacteristically delicate grubber kick by Steve Costello though the retreating Phoenix defence, led to a race to touch down, won by flanker Max Jones. Johnson’s kick improved matters to 15.10. A perplexing passage of play followed as Ilkley’s game plan seemingly went walkabout. Harry Smith was unlucky to be penalised for a late tackle after a kick ahead, the offence being punished by McColl’s kick to the Ilkley 5m line, but then the Ilkley pack decided not to contest the maul from the line-out and before the book of Laws could be consulted, Phoenix had touched down in the corner. A missed conversion saw the scores tied at 15 apiece. Phoenix went ahead once more, as another lax interpretation of the line-out maul failed to impress Mr.Moorhouse, but McColl’s boot failed him. The home side then gave the Phoenix full-back another chance to redeem himself, but this time the ball was kicked dead. Apparently anxious to make amends, Ilkley held on in the tackle and McColl redeemed himself this time, putting his side ahead yet again. Cometh the hour, cometh the man - this time in the form of Max Jones. Phoenix made a complete Horlicks of the restart and before you knew it, Jones had scooped up the loose ball and thundered under the posts, allowing Johnson the easiest of conversions to make it 22.18 with just minutes left. Rather too many minutes, as it transpired. Ilkley looked nailed on to win this and even another missed Johnson penalty saw the clock running down. With five minutes left on the referee-assessor’s free with 8 gallons watch, Ilkley delivered a potentially match winning 50/20 line-out, but nothing came of the attack. A speculative kick through was well fielded by Smith who set up a counter attack, which had the Ilkley faithful clutching their rosary beads with added fervour. Well tackled just in opposition territory, the Ilkley full-back, correctly assessing that he had no support held on a fraction too long and up went Mr. Moorhouse’s arm for the penalty. A kick to 5m out gave the visitors the line, but they were then held up, giving a potential lifeline to Ilkley. The scrum won, possession was then lost and Phoenix desperately threw the ball out left and despite some gallant tacking, somehow replacement Joe Gomes squeezed in, wide out left. The missed conversion was irrelevant and Phoenix celebrated accordingly. Whilst there is absolutely no doubt that this was a game that Ilkley could, indeed should have won, there were many promising signs. There were several fine individual performances - Archie Elwood at scrum-half and Ben Walker on the wing stood out in the backs, whilst Steve Costello and the indefatigable Max Jones represented their pack impressively well. A week off before the next encounter, away at Driffield. Can the Dalesmen get a result here to make the first half of the season look reasonably good? They haven’t lost in the Wolds for a long time, so why reverse that form?