Wharfedale 31 Cambridge 24
Fixtures between these clubs regularly produce some of the best rugby of the season and Saturday’s game, with both sides now thankfully free of relegation worries, was no exception.
Last season Cambridge with a reconstituted side after their money had run out were still true to their attacking style though losing 31-17. This time round with financial history repeating itself even more catastrophically a mostly freshly amateur side again did themselves and their Club proud.
A 75th minute try from evergreen centre Andy Hodgson proved the difference between the two enterprising teams in an entertaining and spirited eight-try encounter full of movement and action. Wharfedale huffed and they puffed and they eventually they got the job done.
Despite the early home pressure and promise of midfield penetration
Cambridge led 17-nil after 20 minutes and again 24 -17 early after the break, playing with an eye-catching enterprising speed and freedom that threatened throughout despite the clear superiority in possession and try-scoring potential enjoyed by the home side.
A bulky Cambridge pack surprised the Greens at the breakdown and turnover ball produced two excellent early breakaway tries. First a fine break out of defence by fullback Mike Ayrton sucked in the wide defence to set impressively pacey winger Patrick Tapley striding home.
Then a second break out set centre Will Lawson free together for a score which with the addition of two conversions and a penalty from fly-half Elliott Bale rocked a somewhat sloppy Dale who were left ruing their three early miscues at line-outs near the Cambridge line and disappointing ends to promising approach play.
The visitors’ February regrouping as a totally amateur side under former stalwart captain Glen Remnant’s stabilising direction has created a team with youthfully spirit, refreshing talent and positive belief. There is clearly far more than a stop-gap mere finger-in-the-dyke operation taking place at the club.
Wharfedale at last added some precision to their fine approach play
before pressure at the line earned hooker Steve Graham try at the back of a driven maul. A long telling break by centre James Tincknell was quickly recycled and lock Richard Rhodes romped over for a try converted by Tom Barrett to leave Wharfedale 12-17 adrift at half-time.
They quickly drew level with a pacey supporting finish by Dan Solomi from Barrett’s neat inside pass only for Cambridge to recover the lead through hooker Jarrod Taylor’s powerful midfield break through a yawning home defence.
The visitors’ continuing ability to force turnover ball combined with the excellent ball-carrying from the base of the scrum of outstanding No 8 Steve Hipwell – by far the most commanding player on the field – kept an enthralling contest well on the boil.
But Wharfedale’s extra time on the ball was beginning to wear Cambridge down, with Graham and James Holland’s ball-carrying both compelling the attention and taking a physical toll of the visitors’ defence.
Pressure was beginning to force error and once an alert Barrett had seized on a loose dropped ball near the line to streak home and convert his own score a slightly relieved Wharfedale were able to pick off the winning try with a another fine long coruscating break from centre James Tincknell to close out the game and record an eventual comfortable victory.
Again on Saturday they owed much of their success to the unsung solid work of the pack where figures like locks Brown and Rhodes are substantially more mature players than a year ago as a result of extended experience at this level. And Graham and the resurgent Dickinson continue to perform so competitively solidly that younger talent like Tampin and Holland are helped to adjust and develop seamlessly within the team.
The backs too looked all the better for their willingness to attack through the hands with increasingly confident orchestration from fly-half Barrett who is playing with increasing enterprise and pace. There was the joyous sight too of Tincknell one more carving sweetly and powerfully through the middle and though failing at the final tackle he is surely not far short of the confident finishing speed of old that sweepingly left full backs for dead.
Wharfedale’s success in what was an excellent advert for National One rugby lifts them four places in a congested lower table to the dizzy heights of tenth – a position perhaps more in keeping with their season’s level of overall performance in admittedly a rather up and down season and leaves them striving with two games to go for as high a place as possible in search of mid-table respectability.
WHARFEDALE: T Davidson (L Davies 66); D Hart, A Hodgson, J Tincknell, S Horsfall; T Barrett (W Bell 76), P Woodhead; N Dickinson, S Graham, M Tampin (T McGee 60); R Brown (J Mason 72), R Rhodes; J Holland, S Solomi, R Baldwin (Capt)
CAMBRIDGE: M Ayrton; A Kellsall, W Lawson, A Smith, P Tapley; E Bale, D Hunter; A Kent, J Taylor, B Cooper; G McComb (Capt), B Jenkins; H Robbins, J Mayhew, S Hipwell
REFEREE: Karl Kirkpatrick