After a slow start, when Dale shipped three tries to find themselves trailing 21-0 after 17 minutes, Wharfedale played some quality rugby to come away with a deserved bonus point. Missed tackles allowed Harry Cochrane over and Gareth Thompson slotted the first of seven conversions only missing the final one. The next two tries were scored by outstanding winger Jonas Mikalcius. Both tries were created by good pressure from the home side and then quick ball being fed wide. It was simple but effective.
Dale then started to get some useful possession and territory. Good work from Josh Prell, Jamie Guy, Rob Baldwin and the Wharfedale pack ended with a try for Ali Wade on his 21st Birthday. Jamie Guy added the extras. Dale continued to work hard and again found themselves with good field position. Phillip Woodhead broke through deep into Hartpury territory and nearly gathered his chip ahead. The visitors and spectators were then dazzled by Mikalcius who took the ball in his own 22 and using a combination of speed, strength and body movement ran 80 metres to score his third try.
Back came Wharfedale and a flowing passing game, starting with a Dan Tai run, took them close to the whitewash. Barnard crashed over for an unconverted try on half time. With the score at 28-12 Dale had played themselves back into a more promising position.
Dale started the second half with some outstanding rugby. This was not a day for kicking and the kick off was returned by Josh Prell up to half way. Matt Beesley and the forwards carried on the charge and two cynical penalties later Dale had a 5 metre line out. The catch and drive was just short of the line but good ball was sent left and Andy Hodgson’s experience and speed took him through a gap. Guy just missed the conversion.
Hartpury’s next possession saw them have to work through 18 phases. Dale’s defence was excellent but in the end they were stretched and James Forrester had space to cross unopposed. Dale’s line out then back-fired and Hartpury were handed field position. A converted try from James McDonald took the score to 42-17.
The green machine was now in full swing and enjoying playing open rugby. They were soon deep in Hartpury’s 22 and Jack Barnard got a vital bonus point try for Dale to which Guy added the two points.
The running fest continued. Wharfedale refused to get into a kicking game and were moving the ball all over the pitch. Perhaps the best rugby of the game followed in the next few minutes. Sadly the flowing rugby resulted in gaps in defence and Wharfedale lost the ball and Hartpury ran a try in from 80 metres, Mikalcius adding his fourth try.
Wharfedale competed for the restart and soon had an attacking 5 metre lineout. Good work from Burridge and Baldwin led to a unconverted score for Alistair Allen. Hartpury finished the scoring with their eighth try from Jake Polledri, the only one that Thompson did not convert!
Jon Feeley, Wharfedale’s Head Coach, commented after the game “The quality of rugby we played today was outstanding. Our Captain led with one of the finest performances I have seen and the others followed his example. Our ambition to play regardless of field position was matched by some superb individual skill levels. How quickly we adapted to the change in approach and worked to retain the ball was fantastic. In the fixture at the Avenue we couldn’t achieve a score of any kind. Today we scored 5 superb tries as a result of 20 players being committed. Our discipline was an area that will probably be overlooked after such an entertaining game, but it was key. We didn’t lose anyone and focused on denying Hartpury opportunities. The referee was particularly complimentary in this regard. We will use this as a starting point and look to improve further before Richmond visit”
There were some superb performances from Wharfedale players. Josh Prell and Harry Bullough delighted in being given the chance to run at the opposition. Andrew Hodgson was influential in midfield and fitted into the attacking policy with enthusiasm that belied that fact he had hardly played this year!
The pack worked tirelessly and Rob Baldwin led by example. The whole back row was outstanding in creative play and also in turning the ball over at the breakdown.
It is hard to criticise this performance but the first 15 minutes were poor. Hartpury were allowed to get a 21 point lead. After that it was 5 tries apiece and Dale played some breathless rugby. In the end they looked the fitter side with quite a few students taking a knee when they had a chance. This was National 1 rugby at its very best. Quality rugby, committed players, amazing skills on show and played in a great spirit. Bring on Richmond and cancel the auditions for a lady singer! With results elsewhere there is still life in the Green Machine. The travelling support was magnificent; urging on and certainly making more noise than the home support. This was a match enjoyed by all the spectators and more importantly enjoyed by the players.
H. Bullough; J. Prell, Hodgson, Morgan, Tai; Guy, Woodhead; Beesley (Altham 29, Beesley 40, Altham 56), Graham (Stockdale 25, Graham 56), Cano (Wade 29, Cano 74), Preston-Routledge, Willet (Allen 74), Burridge, Barnard, Baldwin (c).
Replacement not used J. Bullough
A selection of photographs is available under the Photos tab.