Wharfedale 30 Richmond 26

November 22nd, 2013
Victory in this match was vital if Wharfedale were to retain hope of avoiding relegation. At half-time, leading 16-0 and dominant, they seemed to have the result sealed.  But Richmond, outplayed for most of the first half, were a different side after the break and Greens fans in the large crowd – another season’s best at 833 – had to endure much nerve-jangling before the relief of the final whistle. From the outset the energy generated by the vociferous crowd was replicated in the Greens’ ranks. Early pack clashes saw the visitors in retreat in mauls, and unsettled in line-outs – the first Richmond throw-in burgled by lock Richard Rhodes. The opening score soon arrived. Stand-off Tom Barrett, whose kicking accuracy was to have a crucial impact on the result, cleared a towering 3rd-minute penalty from 2 metres inside the Wharfedale half. The Richmond defence was soon harried into 2 further penalty concessions. Though they were comfortably within his range, Barrett – on instruction that tries should be targeted – sent both to touch. The catch & drive from the first, on the left, looked to be held by the defenders. However, slick recycling eventually found Barrett with space and time for a neat drop-goal for 6–0 after 14 minutes. Two minutes later, the second penalty to touch, on the right this time, produced the hoped-for result. Richmond struggled to hold the pack’s advance, and when all proximate Wharfedale backs suddenly rushed to reinforce the drive, hooker Ian Larkin’s try was inevitable. As was Barrett’s conversion. The Dalesmen continued in comfortable command of proceedings, and when Barrett’s second penalty, on 24 minutes, opened up a 3-score margin at 16-0 an air of raucous confident jollity pervaded the terraces. With the added bonus of Richmond winger Will Browne on a yellow card as punishment for the penalty offence, surely now only the margin of victory remained in doubt. But that was the end of the first-half scoring and, while the Greens retained the edge in possession and territory up to the break, the visitors began to look less fragile. They saw out Browne’s absence without further loss, and should have opened their account in the 33rd minute when full-back Tom Platt had a very kickable penalty chance. His shot rebounded from a post, but set up a period of intense, if brief, pressure on the home line. The Dalesmen repelled this isolated surge, but will have detected a warning sign. Richmond clearly had no plans for a meek surrender! When the sides rejoined battle after the interval, a difference in focus and determination on Richmond’s part was immediately apparent.   An early exchange of converted tries set the tone for a hectic second half. A forceful drive by Richmond ended with Browne scoring under the posts, leaving the routine conversion for Platt. The Greens hit back within 2 minutes, a slick handling move putting winger Lloyd Davies clear to the right corner, Barrett converting splendidly from the touchline. At 23-7 Wharfedale were still apparently in a comfort zone. But they now faced fired-up opposition. By the end of the 3rd quarter Richmond had added 12 more points without reply, and the Greens’ situation was looking decidedly shaky. Browne kick-started the recovery in the 55th minute with a thrilling charge down the left flank, bursting through 3 tackles en route to the line. The momentum was now very much with Richmond and when home centre Joe Donkin conceded a central penalty, and was yellow-carded, skipper Will Warden opted for a scrum rather than a straightforward 3 points. His decision bore 7-point fruit. The ball was worked out to the right and Warden himself was driven over for the try, converted by Platt. With a tenuous 23-19 lead, and a man short, the Greens showed their true mettle. Careful ball retention attended a steady advance into the Richmond half. Eventually they secured a penalty award. Most in the ground expected Barrett to go for the posts, but his kick was sent to touch for a 5-metre line-out.  As it turned out, this bravery had a decisive influence on the match result. A textbook mauled try by replacement hooker Steve Graham, converted by Barrett, gave the home side crucial breathing space. Richmond ended the game on the attack and, with 2 minutes of normal time remaining, Browne grabbed his second try, converted by Platt, to ensure high tension to the final whistle. Macclesfield’s somewhat surprising draw at Blaydon in their penultimate game leaves the Cheshire club equal on points with Wharfedale, but a place higher having won more matches. The Greens’ game-in-hand – they go to Cambridge next week, then entertain Coventry – is looking ever-more critical. Wharfedale: A Whaites; L Davies, J Donkin, L Gray, S Horsfall; T Barrett, J Gough (P Woodhead 56); C Steel, I Larkin (S Graham 56), M Tampin (N Dickinson 77), A Howard (J Mason 73), R Rhodes, T Wareing, A Myers, R Brown.  
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