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Wharfedale 15 Blackheath 25

November 22nd, 2013
After a dismal showing in their previous match, at home to Tynedale, Wharfedale longed for a victory to re-establish both confidence and a safety margin between themselves and the National One relegation zone. It was not to be, but there was much in this gutsy performance to cheer ever-faithful fans, and engender hope for better results. However, the frustrating errors of recent games, while fewer in number, had not been eliminated – and were to have a significant impact on the result. But, in the final analysis, the main reason why the Dalesmen failed to gain any reward from a match in which they enjoyed 60% overall possession (80% in the second half) was Blackheath’s quite magnificent defence. A lesser team would have crumbled under the incessant pounding to which it was subjected throughout the last 30 minutes of play, as the Greens fought fiercely in a vain effort to overhaul a largely self-inflicted 10-point deficit. With Adam Whaites at full-back after 2 years absence owing to illness and injury, Tom Barrett back on loan from his new club Doncaster at stand-off, plus Phil Woodhead, also recovered from injury, on the bench, the Greens squad had a promisingly solid look. But any pre-match optimism very quickly took a jolt, as the visitors made a blistering start. In less than 6 minutes Blackheath had twice torn apart the home defence to lead 0-12. The first try, timed at 1 minute 43 seconds, owed much to a quick tap-penalty near half-way and 30-metre dash by impressive scrum-half Jack Walsh, setting up the move that ended with left-wing Liam Gibson’s comfortable touch-down, converted by stand-off Rory Teague. Worse quickly followed. Lloyd Davies was penalised 7 metres from the Greens’ line for knocking on when fielding a high kick – a questionable ruling confirmed by the touch judge, who was some 20 metres distant. Blackheath’s maul, from the scrum, was held, but Teague received with time and space to send a pin-point cross-field kick into the hands of right-wing Richard Lankshear, who completed another straightforward finish. The Greens reeled – but this time did not buckle, and by the end of the first quarter had clawed back to level terms. A 15th-minute penalty set up a line-out on the visitors’ ‘22’, then impressive mauling by the pack provided the launch pad for a slick move that ended with skipper Andy Hodgson feeding centre partner Joe Donkin to touch down close to the posts. Barrett converted with ease, and soon after found touch with a superb long penalty. From the 5-metre line-out the forwards again mauled smoothly onwards and cleared the Blackheath line, hooker Steve Graham claiming the equalising score. A 28th-minute yellow card for Blackheath prop Nick Winwood offered Wharfedale a gilt-edged opportunity to forge ahead, but they failed to capitalize on their advantage. Instead, defensive errors gifted Teague 2 simple penalties (33 & 40 minutes) – the second following a card for Greens lock Richard Rhodes – and what had seemed a likely interval lead became a 6-point deficit. Themselves now reduced to 14 men, the Dalesmen began the second half strongly, Barrett reducing the arrears with a penalty 3 minutes after the restart. Unlike Wharfedale however, Blackheath then made numerical superiority count – though their chance for what turned out to be their sole serious attack of the second period was another present from hospitable opponents. A careless block on half-way conceded a penalty; Teague found a long touch, the weakened home pack could not contain the ensuing maul, desperation spawned illegality, and referee Andy Taylorson signalled the inevitable penalty try. The Dalesmen, returned to full strength, now took control of the game – and for the remaining half-hour their domination in terms of territory and possession was almost total. It seemed, surely, only a matter of time before the Blackheath defence – subjected to unrelenting pressure – cracked. With victory their aim, and confidence soaring, the Greens eschewed 2 kickable penalties in favour of line-outs. They hammered at the visitors’ line, spending minutes at a time camped inside the 5-metre area. No less than 4 times surges were ‘held up’ when over the line. All to no avail. Almost incredibly, the superbly disciplined Blackheath defenders – apparently prepared to die rather than concede – held out to the final whistle. It was a performance that even the most biaised of Green fans recognised as remarkable. Wharfedale: A Whaites; L Davies, J Donkin, A Hodgson (S Horsfall 66), N Taylor; T Barrett, J Gough (P Woodhead (55); J Altham, S Graham, A Howard (M Tampin 41), R Brown, R Rhodes, A Allen, D Solomi, J Tyson (J Mason 66). Blackheath: M Canty; L Gibson, D Bonner, D Dunne (J Crust 64), R Lankshear; R Teague, J Walsh (T O’Flaherty 64); S Legg, G O’Meara (J Bonner 77), N Winwood (J Cleverly 63), T Bason, T Stradwick, R Pike, D Allen, J West (G Davies (64). Referee: Andy Taylorson
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