Wharfedale 31 Blackheath 30
What an absorbing and thrilling game this was, played –thanks to the sterling volunteer efforts of the fans in removing the frost covers – in glorious winter sun before an appreciative crowd swelled by both a vocal visiting contingent and refugee spectators from locally postponed matches.
The match may have lacked the pace of a truly high-class game, but there was entertainment aplenty: flashes of creative back-play (mostly from Wharfedale), excellent-drilled forward work (mostly from Blackheath), switches of fortune as the lead changed hands and a gripping finish with the result in doubt to dramatic end.
And Wharfedale duly returned to winning ways. But not before surviving a nervy final ten minutes in this nail-biting encounter.
Twice in that exciting finale Blackheath looked set to snatch victory. First substitute kicker Sam Windsor’s long penalty attempt dropped thankfully short – though this was perhaps a long shot in every sense. Then a brave penalty call by referee Andrew Jackson relieved the pressure of a Club scrum on home line.
With only minutes to go Wharfedale had been forced over their own goal-line presenting a gilt-edged opportunity for a pack built around its set-piece play. There was just time, crucially, for sin-binned home lock Richard Brown to resume, visiting prop Des Brett to slip his bind, and Wharfedale to escape up field.
So a frustrating day for the visitors, but some revenge for the Greens for similar frustration in their gallingly narrow one-score early-season defeat down in London.
But a priceless win it was, re-establishing momentum after last week’s surprise reverse, leaving the Greens 11th in the table – poised just below the congested mid-table but pulling further away from the danger area with a thirteen-point cushion now opened-up between themselves and Stourbridge who head the bottom three.
Wharfedale controlled large periods of creative play and, despite never quite playing with the conviction of confident winners, twice opened up significant leads to go into the break at 23-13 and claim a 31-23 advantage just short of the hour.
But they could never shake themselves free of dogged opponents whose strength at the scrum and confident execution of exemplary maul play kept them in contention throughout the contest, brought them two of their four tries and secured two bonus points as a deserved reward for their committed competitive effort.
Full-back Alan Armstrong secured an early penalty for Blackheath before departing with 5th minute yellow card for the use of the boot in tackling Scott Jordan into touch. But Club made light of this misfortune by collecting a fine right-wing overlap finish from winger Mike Canty, followed by a long hoof out deep defence by scrum half Jack Walsh which set up a line-out at the flag from which No7 Dave Allen was expertly mauled over for a 13-3 lead.
Wharfedale recovered from a hesitant beginning to eat away at this lead with three well struck-penalties from Tom Davidson before more fluent expansive play near the end of the half. Though they wasted two well-created overlaps their penetrative play produced a close-quarters try set up when Will Bell broke cleanly through from within his own half, chipped forward for the ball to be regathered and slipped inside for a steaming Tom McGee to coast over for his first Wharfedale dale try. Then Steve Graham gave the visitors a dose of their own medicine as he piled over from a line-out near the flag on the stroke of half-time to give the Greens a 21-3 lead.
Blackheath regained a second half lead with an Armstrong penalty and a charge-down converted try by Jack Walsh only for Wharfedale to recover through a snap drop goal with replacement Tom Barrett’s first touch of the ball and pull further ahead with an excellent try. Simon Horsfall’s perfect dummy left the defence for dead and his fine weaving solo finish did the rest leaving Davidson a simple conversion and his team a sizable lead once more.
But this was the sort of nervy match where both side played better when behind on the score board and a second Allen try, his fourteenth of the season, and scored inevitability from the back of another excellently executed maul, brought Blackheath a bonus point but left them agonisingly short the end.
Wharfedale roused themselves to some ferocious last-minute defending with Skipper Rob Baldwin leading the charge to secure their hard-earned win and revenge the narrow reverse they suffered at the Rectory field. They owed their victory to a solid performance up front especially at the line-out where Joe Quinn excelled, some spirited resistance against some opposing power play at scrum and maul and an honours-even battle in the loose.
If Blackheath shaded the forward battle behind it was a different matter with the Wharfedale backs consistently the more penetrative even if they lacked the edge of pace on the ball needed to profit fully from their creative efforts.
In the end as the score-line showed there wasn’t much between the teams.
WHARFEDALE: L Gray; S Jordan, D Hart, T Davidson, S Horsfall; W Bell (T Barrett 50), P Woodhead; T McGee, S Graham (B Sowrey 70), N Dickinson; R Brown, J Quinn; J Holland, A Myers, R Baldwin (Capt)
BLACKHEATH: A Armstrong; M Canty, R Lanshear, S Windsor, J Stephenson; P Humphries, J Walsh; S Legg, G O’Meara, B Brett; T Bason (Capt), T Stradwick; R Pike, D Allen, J Catt
Referee: Andrew Jackson (RFU)