The Wharfedale Development XV travelled to Northallerton as leaders of the Yorkshire Merit League – Championship North; no mean feat as they are the only “3rd string” team in the division playing against 2nd XV’s from the likes of Otley, Old Brods, and Heath. The Development side is a combination of young up and coming players, the odd senior player on return from injury or, like the evergreen Jonathan Davies (“JD”) at fly half, keen to mentor and pass on their knowledge to the youngsters. This team plays open running rugby and the dry weather, together with a wide and well-kept pitch gave them the chance to spread the ball and show their speed and organisation across the backs.
From the start Wharfedale soaked up early pressure from the sizeable Northallerton pack but as soon as possession was overturned the ball went quickly across the green’s backline for winger Adam Stockdale to finish in the corner. The try was superbly converted by JD. The next score went to Sam Arkwright on the other wing, using his strength and speed to bulldoze his way over on the opposite side of the pitch. 12-0 to Wharfedale.
Northallerton came back with a brief foray into the Dale half from the kick which gave them the opportunity to take a cheeky drop goal and get on the score sheet. 12-3 to Wharfedale.
But the first half belonged to the men in green who used quick ball intelligently and outflanking their heavier opponents at every opportunity. The next score saw JD put Rhodes in space for a converted try. 17-3 to Wharfedale. Then came the first of a hat-trick for Ollie Bullock. Selected at centre he started at flanker and finished the game as scrum half! In his back row guise he smashed up through the middle, scattering would be tacklers, to cross under the posts for another converted try. 24-3 to Wharfedale. Northallerton secured possession from the restart and took advantage of Wharfedale indiscipline with a three point penalty.
Wharfedale tackled hard when not in possession and Northallerton began to tire. A missed touch kick was returned with interest by Sam Arkwright who displayed a “Sonny Bill Williams” like touch to offload in the tackle for Rhodes to score again. 31-6 to Wharfedale. The Dale scrum was strong throughout and towards the end of the half and five metres out the support expected a pushover try but scrum half John Davidson caught everyone napping by picking up to dart in at the corner, before leaving the field with a bad case of festive exhaustion… 36-6 to Wharfedale.
The highlight of the half though was the show, shimmy and go from JD that fixed the opponent backline and gave him an opening to “sprint” 40 metres under the posts and convert. 43-6. JD wasn’t finished and with the final play of the half he broke through again and gave replacement Will Smith the chance to break the last couple of tackles and score.
With a half-time score of 50-6 in favour of Wharfedale the home support must have been expecting the worst in the second period but personnel and positional changes in Dale’s team and a gutsy, whole hearted display from the home forwards meant it was a fairly even contest for the opening twenty minutes. Northallerton camped on Dale’s goal-line, recycling the ball well they eventually scored a well- deserved try 50-11.
Wharfedale slowly began to wrest possession away from the Northallerton pack and use the backs effectively again. Ollie Bullock scored his second try, converted by Will Davidson who then made the most of a quick tap penalty to score a try and convert. 64-11 to Wharfedale.
With ten minutes left there was time for James Huck to score one for the forwards and Ollie Bullock to complete his hat-trick, both tries converted by Rhodes. Final score 78-11 to Wharfedale who remain league leaders.
Wharfedale: – 1. J Huck, 2. J Wells, 3. T Walker, 4. M Colgrave, 5. J Bowers, 6. T Rymer, 7. O Bullock, 8. C Lawn, 9. J Davidson, 10. J Davies, 11. A Stockdale, 12. A Rhodes, 13. T Oakes, 14. S Arkwright, 15. O Whyte.
Replacements: – 16. P Marklew, 17. M Tywang, 18. W Davidson, 19. W Smith.