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Foresters 31 North Ribblesdale 17

June 6th, 2015
Clopper would have been proud. Well over 500 souls turned out on Boxing Day for the annual Yuletide challenge match, this year in memory of Antony “Clopper” Capstick, tragically killed last year. Clopper, who had earned his spurs at North Ribblesdale but went on to become one of Wharfedale’s stalwarts for many years, would have appreciated the turnout, and the fact that the two clubs had given the occasion the respect it deserved by naming strong sides. The weather did its best to spoil things, making the pitch as muddy as many could ever recall it, but at least the rain held off until late in the game. And it was the visitors whose early tactics seemed to be best suited to the conditions: whereas Wharfedale wanted to pass the ball but repeatedly mishandled, Ribb’s playmaker Steve Moon resorted to his considerable boot to test the Greens' receivers and to keep the ball away from the danger area. This tactic of playing in their opponents’ half paid off when the home side’s misdemeanours twice handed penalty chances to their visitors: a distance of 35 yards from the target presented no problem to teenage full-back Robbie Davidson despite the heavy conditions, and by the twelfth minute Ribb had a 6-0 lead. From the restart, however, the Foresters implemented for the first time what was to be their best tactic, one which Ribb never got close to counteracting – the rolling maul. Size is said to matter, but in this phase of the game it’s technique that counts, and from the first of many catch-and-drive moves, Chris Howick was credited with the try wide out on the left, to give the chance of a conversion to winger James Druce, who was to have a considerable influence on the game as it progressed. Druce succeeded with the kick, then benefitted from the concerted efforts of the pack when they took a heel against the head: fly-half Bell made the room to put him in for a simple try, which he converted himself en route to a personal tally of 19 points. But the home lead was soon reduced by another penalty from Davidson, this time from 40 yards, then shortly before half-time the visitors drew level with a try. Moon kicked long, deep into undefended territory, the Greens were slow to attend in sufficient number, and from the ensuing ruck winger Simon Bolland wriggled over the line, for a half-time score of 14-14; the yellow card shown to Will Bell would surely make for a nervous start to the second half for the Foresters However, at the break the home fans were lifted by the return from a long injury of scrum-half Philip Woodhead, and of full-back Adam Whaites, the former Ribb player getting back to full fitness after a difficult couple of years; both were to make telling contributions in their least favourite conditions, but they were soon to see their side behind again, 14-17, to another Davidson penalty. Enough being enough, the Foresters decided to play to their strength, and set up a series of long driven mauls. From a lineout, they drove over the goal line in the 52nd minute, credit going to young hooker Dan Stockdale, whose overall performance must have given the watching Wharfedale selectors plenty of Christmas cheer. By the hour mark the Greens had done it again from an attacking lineout, Howick touching down for his second try, this time Druce landing the conversion, and it was 26-17. By now the home side’s superior fitness was beginning to tell, their forwards had established dominance in the tight and the loose, and despite the state of the ball – it had begun to rain very hard – they were passing it (and even catching it) with confidence, stretching the visitors’ defence to the limit. It was no surprise when Crabtree found Druce in space: the winger chipped over the defence and won the race to the ball six metres short of the line, and his momentum did the rest. The final ten minutes were played out in torrential rain, the rhythm of both sides disrupted by final replacements, and although the result was important only to the keepers of records, the teams left the pitch satisfied in the knowledge that they had done Clopper proud. Wharfedale: Prell; Druce, Crabtree, Bell, Croft; Bullough H, Bullough J; Dickinson, Stockdale, Freeman, Mason, Burnett, Whyte, Howick, Wareing. Replacements: Rhodes, Baines, Altham, McRobert, Woodhead, Simpson, Gill, Whaites. North Ribblesdale: Davidson R; Hayes, Richards, Davidson W, Bolland; Moon, Fox; Newhouse, Henare, Thwaite J, Thwaite W, Boatwright, Heap, Dakin, Stead. Replacements: Lynn, Padley, Mitchell. Referee: Mr Andy Hinchcliffe Scorers: Wharfedale: Tries - Howick, (2) Stockdale, Druce (2); Conversions: Druce (3) North Ribblesdale: Try: Bolland. Penalties: Davidson R (4).    
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