Wharfedale 44 Macclesfield 19
Reserving their best for last Wharfedale served up a seven-try end-of-season feast in outclassing a rugged and purposeful Macclesfield. In an excellent team performance based on rugged defence at the breakdown and excellent handling throughout the team Wharfedale at last found the creative balance that has eluded them for much of the year.
Led on to the field by Chris Steel celebrating his hundredth League appearance, the match was preceded by a poignant minute’s silence in respect of former player, captain, club stalwart in its fledging days, trustee and life-long supporter Tant Dean who died aged 96 earlier in the week.
Wharfedale ran out comfortable winners as the home side has been in all four of the encounters between the Clubs. Though Macclesfield contested the second quarter strongly up front, two superb tries either side of the break gave the home side an ascendancy they never surrendered despite a Baldwin yellow card against a gale during the second half.
Wharfedale begun with refreshing handling confidence securing an early score from Andy Hodgson who athletically scooped a pass up off his toes after a Simon Horsfall break to dive over for a try converted by Tom Barrett.
This was quickly followed by a Dan Solomi try at the back a close ruck driven expertly forward from near the line. It was the determined flanker’s 18th try of the season setting a record for a Wharfedale forward with Simon Horsfall’s eight the next best tally.
Together with a Barrett’s eighth drop goal – not only a club record but a total unmatched in any national League – the home side enjoyed a 15-nil lead after twenty minutes.
The Green forwards were in charge at the scum and finding greater joy at the line-out but they were forced to defend grimly against Macc’s powerful pick and drive game, and a short period of such pressure brought No 8 Matt Owens and centre Richard Hughes answering Macclesfield tries, one converted by fly-half Tom Eaton to narrow the lead to 15-12.
But Barrett’s excellent long arcing classical fly-half break and confident pacey finish and conversion of his own try gave the Greens a 22-lead at the break.
This excellent individual finish was followed minutes after the interval by a superb length-of-the-field team-score starting with a James Tincknell break from his own line with forwards and backs combining to set up a forty-yard finish by man-of-the match James Holland. The Holland and Barrett show
had certainly revitalised the side and given the score-board a very healthy look.
Such is the Captain’s fame, that though not the player involved in an illegal side entry at the ruck, he was dispatched to the bin.
And although a neat try from excellent flanker Frankie Barker from the resultant close tap penalty converted by Ross Winney gave the visitors some breathing space, they were powerless to prevent three further length-of the field finishes as Wharfedale ended the season with their most compelling and balanced team performance.
First departing centre Tincknell finished some excellent combined handling and a neat final Horsfall pass to score wide out. Then Holland, a force throughout both at the breakdown and in the loose, added his second with another searing finish before winger James Druce sprinted seventy yards as Wharfedale signed off both the match and the season in exuberant style.
To end up a respectable tenth is no mean feat in such a highly competitive Division which gets tougher every year. Wharfedale’s phenomenal 16-year tenure at this National level in the face of ever-increasing, largely London- based sides with lavish financial backing (Jersey can be viewed as a sort of off-shore account member in this respect) is a tribute to shrewd rugby knowledge and smart management both on and off the field.
Saturday’s relegation of neighbours Harrogate from the League below – and Otley’s literal last-minute reprieve from a similar fate – only emphasise Wharfedale’s continuing achievement in providing a National platform for largely local players as well as spectators in such a rural outpost.
So in the end congratulations are due to Tom McGee and his fellow coaches and players on job well done in the face of a persistent injury list throughout the season that would have sunk the club in previous seasons.
Wharfedale are in the happy position of possessing the maturing talent and strength-in-depth to build a secure platform for a more than mere consolidation next time round.
WHARFEDALE: L Davies; J Druce, A Hodgson, J Tincknell, S Horsfall; T Barrett (W Bell 73), P Woodhead (J Gough 69); C Steele (N Dickinson 48), S Graham, M Tampin (J Altham 64); R Rhodes, R Brown (J Mason 64); J Holland. D Solomi, R Baldwin (Capt)
MACCLESFIELD: M O’Regan; E Stobart; R Hughes, T Davenport, J Fowles; T Eaton, C Mulchrone; G Woods, M Samuel, T Mantell; A Marsh, D Williams; J Scott-Sugden, F Barker, M Owen
REFEREE: Andrew Jackson (RFU)