Amongst the new clubs Wharfedale will meet in National 2, few are as close in spirit as Luctonians, a traditional, rural club of substantially home-grown talent, based in a small village, which, as David Baker noted when presenting a Wharfedale shield to their president, really is in the middle of nowhere, even by Wharfedale standards! Dale made the long trek to Herefordshire looking to maintain the improvement shown in the win over South Leicester but were to be disappointed – and disappointing.
The Greens started well, Nathan Myers and Rob Baldwin winning the ball back from Jamie Guy’s well-judged kick-off but then possession being lost through indecision and poor handling. At the resulting scrum, the Dale eight held firm but Lucs fly half Tom Jones, whose kicking was to be influential all afternoon, kicked long, forcing Dale to play from deep. Robbie Davidson ran strongly out of defence but the ball was again lost and Jones pushed Dale back to their own 5m line. This pattern was to be repeated several times, with Dale being forced to play out of deep field positions and, despite playing with pace and invention and making a couple of half-breaks, the support and handling were never crisp enough to make headway against a resolute Luctonians defence. Luctonians stuck to their game plan based on aggressive defence, a strong kicking game and disciplined chase to put defenders under pressure.
After 30 minutes, Luctonians led a fairly even game 6-0 through two Louis Silver penalties but, content to stick to the game plan, seemingly lacked the ambition to challenge the Dale line. This all changed on 33 minutes when centre Francis Kelly ran a straight line onto a ball from a line-out on the 22 to go under the posts, with the try converted by Silver for 13-0. The relative ease of this score lifted Luctonians who began to play with more pace and purpose and, 3 minutes later, created a fine overlap try for replacement winger Charlie Grimes, again converted by Silver for 20-0 at half time. The half-time score could have been far worse as, in the last play of the half, Lucs squandered a simple overlap with the scoring pass to winger Will Hodnett being called forward. The ease with which Lucs had carved open the Dale defence 3 times in under 10 minutes was a cause for concern.
In the second half, Dale established parity and even a degree of control in the scrum and had more of the ball and territory but, despite some strong individual runs, again struggled to achieve any consistency against the Luctonians defence, with too much poor execution and indecision leading to promising positions being wasted, particularly 3 attacking line-outs where the catch and drive was penalised for minor infringements. With 15 minutes to go, after a period of intense Lucs pressure, relieved briefly by a monster 70m clearance kick by Rob Baldwin, sloppy tackling in midfield gave full-back Joe Doyle an easy run in for Luctonians, again converted by Silver for 27-0. Dale raised their game and after a succession of penalties, gained a 5m line-out which Josh Burridge took cleanly and, wrong-footing the defence who were expecting the catch and drive, ran through unopposed to score under the posts, with Guy adding the conversion. At 27-7, the Dale faithful had hopes of a remarkable comeback but the last few minutes were all Luctonians, with some direct running at a tired defence resulting in further missed tackles and a simple bonus point try for Luctonians winger Will Hodnett and a final score of 34-7.
With coach James Doherty absent from the trip owing to work commitments, there will be plenty for him to absorb before next week’s meeting with Sheffield Tigers. The fixtures have been kind to Dale who have yet to meet a team in the top 5, but their struggle to come to terms with life in National 2 is not what the supporters expected. The attacking talent is there but Doherty needs the execution to be far sharper and needs to find some answers to the side’s defensive frailty.
Team: R Davidson; Wellock; Jordan; T Davidson (H Bullough 42); Prell; Guy; Lawn; Larkin (Stockdale 40); Poole (Close 21); Asejevs (Huck 55); Allen; Ward; Baldwin (capt); Myers (Hall 50); Burridge.
The match photographs are available under the Photos tab – then click on Link to Flikr Album.