Wharfedale 34 Blaydon 3
In the end it was a job well done – if not quite dusted. Wharfedale, like an alchemist turning first half dross into second half gold, achieved the crucial win that all but guarantees them safety.
This victory, together with third- bottom Birmingham’s home defeat on Saturday, means that with only four games still to go the Greens now have a 16-point advantage over the Midlands outfit. And there is the added comfort that on-the-slide Cambridge now lie sandwiched in between. Although the mathematical shouting is not quite over, it would take an almost impossible run of scores to deny the Greens survival.
So there was a buoyant mood at the finish at Threshfield where two well-taken Wharfedale tries at the start of the second half rescued this game from its earlier dire mediocrity and produced the platform for an eventual resounding bonus-point home win.
An untidy error-strewn first half played in perfect spring conditions ended with the home side just 6-3 ahead from two Tom Barrett penalties to an eventual one in reply from former Wharfedale Captain Andy Baggett whose rather unhappy return to the Avenue included missing two simple early chances and fluffing more kicks out of hand.
Despite looking the likelier side Wharfedale’s tendency to want to soften up the visitors before using wide space combined with a frustrating surrender of possession within moments of gaining it allowed the visitors long periods of thankfully largely fruitless attack.
The Greens did end the half on a better note when Rob Baldwin freed Dan Hart on a fine long sweeping touch-line break which ended frustratingly short at the line.
There followed a half-time presentation of a memorial shirt to Fred Bullough to mark his 25th successive year of club sponsorship extending right from the very first League season- with 24 of them remarkably ending in Wharfedale victory.
Perhaps buoyed by the Bullough bounty, once the Greens forsook isolated promise for more sustained and focused attack they were rewarded with a corner try from full-back Luke Gray supplied by a neat over-arm pass by Dan Solomi after sweeping approach play by the backs and sustained forward pressure by the forwards near the line.
This was swiftly followed by an excellent classic arcing dummying outside break at pace by Barrett who glided smoothly between the posts for the sweetest of individual tries. The young fly-half who had an excellent game throughout converted both, the first with a towering kick from the touch-line, for a comfortable 27-3 lead.
Though nothing was seen of the formidable forward power which has been at the core of their recent run of success, a somewhat under-strength Blaydon managed moments of possession. But their scrum held no terrors for the Greens, with Dicko in particular enjoying himself exploiting his experience against a young and callow opponent.
Once the Greens got their handling act together the visitors were progressively outgunned by their willingness to mount increasingly fluent running attack featuring prominent incursions into the line from Gray and telling midfield probes from the ever-threatening James Tincknell.
Successive sweeping forays up field produced the platform for a close drive to the line which gave Solomi his fifteenth try of the season, once more converted by Barrett to extend his personal tally to 17 points. Solomi – by far the side’s leading scorer- is not quite the leading try-scoring forward in the Division. Dave Allen lies ahead of him with twenty. But the majority of the Blackheath flanker’s tries have come from tail-gating his side’s excellent rolling maul, while Solomi’s have come from exceptional personal foraging in open play.
The visitors’ woes were compounded when they at last got over the Wharfedale line only to have the score disallowed for foul play. A rampant home side escaped to the other end to add a bonus-point try when returning veteran Andy Hodgson put fellow centre Tincknell over between the posts allowing substitute kicker Simon Horsfall a simple final two points. The home side were able to play out the last ten minutes comfortably in charge despite a gratuitous yellow card to replacement fly-half Will Bell which rather summed much of referee Taylorson’s rather less than centrally-focused approach.
Wharfedale will of course be more than happy with the result but there will be satisfaction too with the eventual overall performance. There was a pleasing balance to the win, with backs and forwards contributing equally and the simple thing done well.
They kicked their (goals five in succession after an opening miss). They made their presence pay in the opposing twenty-two and they took their try-scoring chances clinically. The centre pairing looked to provide attacking clout and though Hodgson enjoyed few touches on the ball he remains a reassuring defensive mid-field presence. Wharfedale can now look forward rather than over their shoulder.
WHARFEDALE : L Gray; D Hart, A Hodgson (T Davidson 70), J Tincknell, S Horsfall; T Barrett (W Bell 68), P Woodhead; N Dickinson, S Graham (B Sowrey 60),M Tampin (J Altham 64); R Brown (J Holland 60), R Rhodes; J Quinn, D Solomi, R Baldwin (Capt)
BLAYDON: J Embleton; T Jeffrey, G Painter, M Broad, F Wilson; A Baggett, A Davies; R Quinn-McLaughlin, M Hall (Capt), M Ward; C Wearmouth, G Jones; B Morris, R Bell, D Watchorn
REFEREE: Andy Taylorson