Swapping the heavy rain of the north for a balmy afternoon in Gloucestershire saw Dale start their nineteenth year in National Division 1 with a well deserved victory. Hartpury fielded a young side with only six players over 20. They fought hard all afternoon and came close to pinching the result with a strong finish. The facilities at Hartpury were outstanding. Seasoned travellers were expecting a similar set up to Loughborough but it was a pleasant surprise to find a good clubhouse and areas for spectators to be seated and comfortable.
Dale started strongly, with Hartpury making mistakes, and early pressure was rewarded with three points from a penalty kick taken by Tom Davidson. From the restart a box kick was sent down field and another Hartpury error gave Wharfedale an attacking platform with a scrum. The Greens drove Hartpury back but the effort went unrewarded when the ref just ordered the scrum to be reset. The next scrum was won and more attacking play by Baldwin, Doherty, Willet and Armstrong led to a frustrated Hartpury player (No 8 Lewis Ludlow) being red carded for stamping. From the ensuing line out the visitor’s catch and drive saw Chris Howick touching down for five. Tom Davidson was accurate with a kick wide out to put Dale 10-0 up after 10 minutes.
The next 30 minutes saw Dale pressing hard to increase their lead only to be frustrated by Hartpury winning a series of penalty decisions. It was Dale’s turn to make mistakes and instead of pressing home the advantage allow Hartpury back into the game.
A careless kick straight into touch gave Hartpury a line out in Dale’s half. They ran the ball and a kick and chase ended with Wharfedale scrambling the ball over their own line to give Hartpury a 5 metre scrum. After the usual reset Dale were penalised for an early shove. A quick tap led to a try for Robert Fuller and Gareth Thomas had no problems with the conversion.
Dale again worked the ball into Hartpury’s 22. A catch and drive only led to a Hartpury scrum which saw the Greens concede another penalty. Good ball handling, strong running and support play ended with a penalty to Hartpury on Dale’s 22 and Thompson took the opportunity to draw the scores level.
Dale again attacked and a superb cross field move, coupled with a break by Cameron Hudson, was only spoilt by a deliberate knock on by a defender which stopped the ball reaching a three man overlap. The Hartpury player made much less of an attempt to catch the ball than Richard Rhodes did against Old Albanian last season, for which he received a yellow. Dale pressed from the line out but ended up being penalised.
Hartpury once again made good use of the possession and despite a strong tackle in midfield by Hudson had enough players to keep the ball moving, scoring wide out to the right. Thomas slotted a superb conversion to put the students 17 – 10 ahead.
From the restart Hartpury ran the ball back well and were given another shot at goal from the left side. Thomas was again on form to extend Hartpury’s lead to 10 points.
Tom Davidson landed a penalty from half way to end the first half with the score Hartpury 20 Dale 13.
The clouds had drifted over the ground but Wharfedale started the second half strongly and another successful penalty from Tom Davidson narrowed the gap to four points.
From Hartpury’s restart Dale attacked again. Hartpury were reduced to 13 when Daniel Thomas was sin binned for repeat infringements. Strong defence by the students kept them out until Simon Willet scored from a catch and drive. Tom Davidson added the extras to give Dale a 20-23 lead. With 12 minutes to go Adam Howard crashed over for Dale’s third score, again converted by Davidson.
A ten point lead should have seen a comfortable finish and Dale pressing for a bonus point fourth try. The plucky southerners however found a second wind and finished strongly and reduced the deficit with an unconverted try by William Tanner with five minutes left. It was audacious as they took a leaf from Wharfedale’s game plan and executed a very impressive catch and drive.
Wharfedale hung on and finished with a fine win to enjoy travelling back up north.
It was a win and it is great to start the season off with four points. There were lessons to be learnt. Why were Hartpury allowed to get back into this game and even have a lead at half time? After 15 minutes it looked like being a bonus point by half time, especially with an extra man advantage. Hartpury were effective at slowing down our possession and were more efficient at the breakdown. They had a lot less possession but used it well. Dale had many opportunities to score but for various reasons failed to get across the line. Did we lose our focus a little after the stamping incident? We need to let the ref do his job, no matter how odd the decisions are, and try and get him on our side – this includes supporters as well – BE NICE TO THE REF!
On the plus side there was the excellent kicking of Tom Davidson. Although he actually did miss his first long range penalty attempt the official score card read that he kicked six out of six; Tom’s memory said that he agreed with this! Cameron Hudson was impressive both in defence and attack. Will Bell, despite being stitched up and off for 30 minutes, gave a solid display. The forwards were impressive and dominated the ex premiership front row that Hartpury fielded. It is also good to note that they were dominant at the start before the Hartpury 8 was sent off!
Phillip Woodhead; Scott Jordan, Cameron Hudson, Tom Davidson, Oliver Cicognini; Will Bell (Matt van Sertima 25), James Doherty c (Will Bell 55); Matt Beesley (Joe Altham 48), Ian Larkin (Dan Stockdale 33), Jake Armstrong (Adam Howard 58), Simon Willet (Matt Beesley 70), Richard Rhodes, Josh Burridge, Chris Howick (Alex Powell 16, (Chris Howick 40)), Rob Baldwin