John Hope reports on Ilkley RFC vs Driffield on Saturday, 4 March 2023, at Stacks Field.
Result: Ilkley 35 pts, Driffield 34 pts
This was Box Office of the highest order. The £7 entry money was worth every penny! The scene was set on a perfect spring afternoon following the ILKLEY President’s splendid pre-match hospitality. The sun came out and lit up an immaculately prepared pitch with the going good to firm, firm in places.
Last week’s referee at Sandal, Mr Thomas Hurdley had once again been appointed to officiate and, if there was one blemish on the ILKLEY performance it was that they still had not grasped the experienced whistleblower’s interpretation of the laws, particularly around the ruck. The penalty count was once again stacked heavily against the Dalesmen.
That aside the large and vocal crowd were treated to a spectacle of open running rugby that would have graced leagues several levels above Regional 1 North East. Both sides contributed in spades - a tribute to both ILKLEY and Driffield coaching staff. The opening few minutes saw ILKLEY with possession through what must have been fifteen phases before a loose pass gave Driffield a scrum on half way. A free kick, then a penalty presented Driffield with a shot at goal which James Watts slotted. The Dalesmen were behind. 0-3. The high flyers sitting second in the league might have been expected to build a score from here, but the resurgent Dalesmen are made of sterner stuff these days. With the ILKLEY defence up on just about everything the talented visitors’ backs could manufacture, they forced a knock-on. The scrum was won. Alex Powell made good ground. Ben Walker beat three. Two more phases and the ball was wizzed left to Walker for the try. Chuckie Ramsay added the extras, the first of five superb and ultimately vital conversions to set ILKLEY on their way. 7-3 after 15 minutes. Next a steal set up Blake Morgan but he was ragged into touch. Somehow ILKLEY won the ball back off Driffield’s lineout. Mr versatile JH Johnson had two goes before setting the ball back for Morgan to pop it up for Rob Sigsworth to dot down. 14-3, a quarter gone. Ben Magee then made his presence felt as he and Johnson took ILKLEY into the Driffield half but three penalties in quick succession conspired to halt progress. Driffield made changes at prop and scrum half sensing that their winning streak was seriously threatened. Magee fielded a kick deep into ILKLEY’s red zone and a trademark mazy run ended with a delicate chip into Driffield’s 22 which fleet of foot Morgan snatched from Driffield’s cover and made another 15 metres to set up Sigsworth who gallopped gleefully over for his brace. 21-3, 8 minutes to half time. Driffield are too good a side to be daunted by an 18 point deficit and so the final moments of the half proved. They were rewarded with a scrum after an ILKLEY knock-on which was so nearly an interception. Number 8 Adam Brankley broke to the 22 and released skipper Matthew Jenkinson to score. Watts made it 21-10. Now with their tails up Driffield won an ILKLEY scrum and were gifted 2 more penalties but they were unable to add to their score. Half time came as some relief to the ILKLEY faithful and a cup of tea and a plea for more of the same would have been the coaches’ call. Inauspiciously the ILKLEY kick-off was run back from deep through at least three missed tackles and ended up with a penalty on the Dalesmen’s 10 metre line. Watts stroked it over. 21-13. The Woldsmen were now engaging top gear and ILKLEY were defending for their lives. They coughed up a penalty and then another and ILKLEY were back on the visitors’ 22. A long lineout was overthrown but the tenacious Morgan was quick onto a loose ball. Three great phases later and Johnson was squeezing his considerable frame over in the corner for a great try. 28-13. Half an hour to go. Back came Driffield with some great rugby but they couldn’t find a way past these indomitable Dalesmen. With the help of a couple more penalties they were battering Ilkley’s line. Suddenly Archie Elgood, now on the wing, was quick on to a loose ball and, even quicker, underway towards half way. With the cover gaining ground his break out was finally halted 15 metres out. He slipped the ball inside but it just eluded the onrushing Magee and Driffield were back in sufficient numbers to work the ball straight back through many hands. The final recipient, Joseph Robinson went over for a rather unlikely and, from the Dalesmen’s point of view, unfortunate try. 28-20. 18 minutes left on the clock. The tension was palpable. A second behavioural lecture of the match was delivered to both skippers by Mr Hurdley. Jack Leibster replaced Alex Powell who had put in a seasonal best big shift. Ilkley had a rare penalty on the Driffield 10 metre line followed by a lineout on the 22. A throw to the front was gathered one handed by the splendid Pete Erskine. He shot past the close defenders to gallop like a thoroughbred to score the Dalesmen’s fifth try. 35-20. Still 12 minutes left on the clock.
Eddie Brown replaced Elgood. Again Driffield advanced with their silky skills seeing them into the ILKLEY danger zone. Still that solid, well drilled Dalesmen defence held out. Josh Pinder came on to add some bulk up front, Sigsworth taking a well earned rest. Ultimately the dam burst as two more penalties helped Driffield to a try scored by prop Bryce McKinnon. 35-27. Still 5 minutes (at least) on Mr Hurdley’s watch. Driffield required two scores to win or draw. They got one of them with another hard earned, second bonus point try scored by wing Sam Robson, but that was it. This time the blast on Mr Hurdley’s whistle was welcome. The Dalesmen joyfully claimed their thoroughly deserved victory by the odd point in 69. Be in no doubt, this was a massive team victory, but there goes a big shout out for the three Yorkshire under 20’s Ollie Ham, Ben Walker and captain Max Jones who seemed energised by their victory last Sunday over in Cheshire. Beating second in the table high flyers is no mean feat but it demonstrates what this side is capable of. With Heath (now in second place) to play this weekend and the final home match against York on 18th March, an exciting end to what has been at times a disappointing season for the Dalesmen is assured. The Dalesmen’s 2nd XV who had been handed a fair old walloping at Driffield in November came out on top of an exciting and entertaining match 52-27.