A bleak grey day in south east London heralded a bleak first half for the men in green. The home support was not happy that the Yorkshire side had brought the wet weather down with them but were generous in their sadness about Wharfedale’s struggles near the bottom. “We really hope that, after today, Dale start winning plenty of matches. The division would be a sad place without you.” This was typical of the comments being given to visitors.
The opening quarter was hard fought with Dale’s defence being tested and not found wanting. The Esher pack was in the ascendant and with the referee happy to penalise the Green Machine it was Esher that had the better of territory and possession.
With fifteen men on the pitch Wharfedale were a match for Esher. A yellow card handed to Rob Baldwin was the cue for Esher to score 17 points and they only scored again when Steven Graham was sent to the sin bin.
The first quarter saw the two sides level on 3 points each with a penalty for Esher, kicked by Paul Roberts, answered by Jamie Guy on 15 minutes.
Baldwin was sin binned after 22 minutes and the home team capitalised with a converted penalty try, another penalty from Roberts and a try from Tom Yellowtrees which Roberts also converted. Yellowtrees finished off a good move from Esher although they were aided by generous interpretation of the forward pass; still it was good to see fine handling and speed ending up with a try.
Graham earned his 10 minutes rest on 37 minutes and Esher added their third try a minute later. Again the try was well constructed. From a scrum that saw the Wharfedale pack not giving an inch Esher sent the ball wide. Strong cover tackling nearly stemmed the flow but extra support was close and good handling allowed the southerners to cross the whitewash. Roberts went close but his conversion, from the left touch line, just shaved the post on the wrong side.
Dale found themselves 25-3 down at halftime but came out and started to play with more conviction. Still with only 14 men for the first seven minutes it was the visitors that started to gain the upper hand. They gained parity at the scrum and it was now their turn to be awarded penalties. 11 out of 20 scrums ended with the ref awarding a penalty, sometimes before the ball was put in! The scrum count ended even which was a testament to the Green Machine as they were certainly being dominated early on.
There were some good sustained passages of play but Wharfedale could not find the killer punch. Esher’s sometime desperate defence was not treated as harshly as Dale had been treated earlier in the game. This view was echoed by Wharfedale coach, Tom McGee, who said “Disappointingly, and confusingly we received 2 yellow cards for only 2 offences in our 22 which resulted in heavy points against us, however Esher gave away 6 penalties in their own 22 when we were in positive positions moving forward and not one card was shown – that would have had a bearing on the game, possibly not the end result as we weren’t good enough in the 1st half.”
Esher had chances to score during the second half but 2 superb tackles kept them from the line. The first was from Matthew van Sertima who appeared from stage left and launched himself to extinguish what was a certain score. The second was from skipper, Josh Burridge, who executed a last ditch tackle just as Esher were about to touch down.
Dale scored a well deserved try in the last minute when Will Bell dashed in under the posts. Guy added two more points from the tee.
Esher deserved their victory but Wharfedale deserved more for their efforts. It is condescending sometimes to say that a side never gave up; this side never stopped working, they never stopped trying to gain the upper hand in the battle up front, they never stopped tackling, they never stopped trying to go forward – this is a team that is driven; that will never stop until the end of the season. The results will come, the support that inspired the team before Christmas, drowning out the home support on the banks of the Humber, is needed next week. The sixteenth man needs, nay must, be there.
Wharfedale Coach, Tom McGee, added “The way we played and the response during the second half against Esher is more like how we, and I, want to play in the second half of this season. We looked a lot more positive and decisive, defended with urgency and aggression, basically upped our game in everything we did which allowed us to get in good field positions, apply pressure and win the half.
Ultimately the pressure we were under in the scrum, the unforced errors we made along with yellow cards made it difficult for us to assert ourselves in the 1st half. We did some really good things in the first 40, nailed our plays and systems. The challenge we have is to do those good things consistently all the time.
I’ve made it clear what we’re looking to do in this second half of the season, how we want to go about our rugby to move our season forward positively.”
Wharfedale: – Fewtrell; van Sertima (Stockdale 37, Graham 56), Hudson, Morgan, Tai Sen Choy; Guy, Woodhead (Bell 37); Altham (Beesley 41), Graham (Sertima 47, Altham 64), Wade (Cano 51), Hedgley, Powell, Allen (Willet 33), Burridge, Baldwin