Birmingham 36 Wharfedale 17
Picking up where you left off after a longish break is never easy, especially when you play lowly opposition where banana-skin expectation and complacency can – however unconsciously – come into play. And so it proved on Saturday.
Wharfedale were unable to resurrect any of their fine pre-Christmas form in this upset at Damson Park as Birmingham belied their bottom-of the-table status in claiming a comprehensive victory in a match they had confident charge of from beginning to end. The Bees it must be said won very much by right and not merely by default through any underperformance on Wharfedale’s part.
They were the bigger, more physical side up front and their aggression in the tackle set a marker for the afternoon. They halted Wharfedale’s early forays firmly in their tracks, gained supremacy in the set piece with some excellent destructive scrummaging and were effectively disciplined in their ball retention and execution of a tightly-devised game plan.
And behind it all they had the measured boot of Mark Woodrow – returning for his fifth spell with the Bees – to turn the pressure into points, 21 of them in all including six penalties as the Greens paid a heavy price for the pressure they were under both in the scrum and at the breakdown.
The other player to profit from the Bees solid forward platform was England sevens star Simon Hunt. The pacey fullback had a telling hand in the try-scoring exploiting lax Wharfedale tackling in crossing twice and creating a third for centre Greg Evans – all of them from first phase use of the ball.
The Greens too did manage three tries of their own – two of them outstanding efforts when they did for a brief ten minutes at the end of the first half get ball on the front foot and mount an effective pick-and drive-game.
First winger Scott Jordan, collecting a possibly inadvertently precise diagonal chip from fly-half Will Bell, left a retreating defence for dead with a beautiful in-and-out swerving run at full pace to score in the corner.
Then Tom Barrett, on as a result of the rib injury sustained by Andy Hodgson, glided through a gap to feed supporting lock Richard Brown who scored under the posts. A fitting reward for Brown, with a fine display of hard-yard ball carrying, was by far the Greens’ most effective performer on the day.
The Bees resumed second-half charge and had the victory well in the bag before the red-card departure of Wharfedale Skipper Rob Baldwin, eventually giving way to frustration after passively enduring a period of sustained targeted hounding clearly designed to that end.
He was the recipient of a mildly ludicrous but still ugly mixture of gamesmanship, intimidation and physical threat when tormentor-in-chief lock Tom Quarry grabbed his shirt, pulling him within head-butting range daring him to retaliate. A lengthy official confab followed to no eventual effect. Ten minutes later the Bees got the result they had been looking for: Baldwin dismissed, guilty of kneeing a prone Russell Earnshaw in the back. But the match officials should surely accept their share of responsibility for allowing matters to escalate to such a point.
A final late try each side with Evans carving through the centre for the Bees and Jordan strolling over in acres of space for his second proved incidental to a contest long settled in the favour of the home side.
So hardly the result Wharfedale wanted or necessarily expected to start the New Year. They did not play badly; they were simply outplayed by a team desperate for victory to end a losing run who did it in the time-honoured fashion: hectic defensive line-speed and all-out physical aggression. Something the Greens, in recent weeks, knew about doing themselves.
The backs with limited opportunity produced three fine tries with Jordan’s sleek thrilling finishing the highlight. But the tries conceded were through some uncharacteristic limp defence lacking Hodgson’s mature presence.
Dan Hart atoned for some earlier unconformable moments with a shuddering try-saving tackle near the end. Phil Woodhead again showed his quick-reaction mettle under pressure and Bell never lost composure though never allowed time or much ball in which to manoeuvre.
Without the scrum platform they have become used to the Green pack were always on the back foot and the short-passing ball-carrying game they tried to mount made little progress for all their hard work with Ben Sowrey for example for once wrapped up with constant ease.
The back-row too were stifled and neutralised: Birmingham targeted Wharfedale’s strengths and won. For once too substitutions failed to address the problems: replacing Sowrey rather than the struggling Dicko in the front row and Dan Solomi (despite the obvious worry about his personal penalty count) just as he was getting some purchase on the game seemed on the face of it rather surprising.
Birmingham may still prop up the table but as their double over the Greens shows they are one of the few teams that possess just the armoury to take on Wharfedale’ strengths. For the Greens this was surely one to take on the chin and move on.
BIRMINGHAM: S Hunt; C Sadler, G Evans, R Connolly, J Pons; M Woodrow, J Jolly; I Darkintas, R Macmillan, N Tua; T Quarry, R Earnshaw; C Brightwell, S Farmer, M Hopley (Capt).
WHARFEDALE : D Hart; S Jordan, A Hodgson (T Barrett 18), T Davidson, S Horsfall; W Bell, P Woodhead; T McGee, B Sowrey (S Graham 54), N Dickinson (J Altham 75); R Brown, (R Rhodes 75), J Quinn; J Holland, D Solomi (A Myers 48), R Baldwin (Capt)
REFEREE: John Meredith (RFU)