Another case of what might have been.
Faced with a half-time deficit of 12-17 and the slope to contend with in the second half, the young Wharfedale side showed tremendous character in not only resisting their illustrious visitors’ first-half pressure, but attacking their goal-line for almost the entire second period.
With the snow-covered hills of Upper Wharfedale resplendent in bright sunshine, but with a desperately cold gale blowing across the pitch, the match had
begun so well for the Greens: it took Dan Solomi only five minutes to do what he does so well, bursting from a ruck on the 22 to outpace the defence to the line, giving Jamie Guy the conversion.
Wharfedale now had to endure a long spell of pressure from the Londoners’ efficient catch-and-drive tactics, twice stopping them illegally to concede penalties. Eschewing attempts at goal in the galeforce wind, a third drive produced number eight Hugo Ellis’s first try, the only alternative to which seemed to be a penalty try and a yellow card. The conversion was missed, so with a lead of 7-5 the Wharfedale faithful may have felt that their team had been let off lightly.
If that was relief, it lasted only two minutes. Winger Kiba Richards made good progress down the right touchline, the ball was moved infield and from a ruck, and a collision off the ball seemed to open the door for the influential Ellis to sprint clear from 35 yards, fly-half Scott Sneddon adding the conversion for a 12-7 lead.
Once again Wharfedale fought back, strong runs through the centre by Cameron Hudson and Tom Davidson making ground, and it was a break by the latter that led to repeated phases to give James Tyson, later to leave the field injured, the chance to burrow through to score.
But as half-time approached, Park once again went on the attack, more pressure on the home line resulting in a close-quarter blind-side try for winger Joseph Aluwa for a half-time score of 12-17, and the visitors no doubt relishing the prospect of adding to the tally with the sun and slope in their favour.
The second half began, however, with Wharfedale camped in their opponents’ 22, where they were to remain for the entire third quarter without reward: indeed there were only 12 minutes left when Rosslyn Park invaded Wharfedale’s own 22 for the first time. But nothing came of that attack and the match ended with the Greens once more on the enemy line, but despite the efforts of their indefatigable forwards, with wrecking-ball Adam Howard prominent, they were unable to force the winning try.
The Wharfedale scrum, which in the early stages had been under pressure, had begun to turn the tables on the visitors, so when at half-time Jon Feeley introduced the considerable figures of prop Matt Freeman and lock Simon Willet, the latter thankfully fully recovered from his car crash, scrummage dominance was secure.
The lineout, however, continued to be Wharfedale’s weakness, particularly in conditions which made the catch-and-drive the match’s most dangerous weapon. Rosslyn Park’s on the other hand, was outstanding: variations at the front added to the immaculate catching of William Bowley and the throwing of Adam Bellamy, only once called back for failing to cope with the gale-force wind.
In the last four weeks Wharfedale have played and lost to the sides at the top of the division, with two bonus points the only reward. They now embark upon a series of matches against what on paper look like lesser sides. The task of the management is to ensure that these opponents are not underestimated in this most unpredictable division.
Wharfedale: Lloyd Davies; Josh Prell (Barnard, 52), Cameron Hudson, Tom Davidson, Oli Cicognini; Jamie Guy, James Doherty; Matt Beesley (Joe Altham, 71), Dan Stockdale (Ian Larkin, 71), Jake Armstrong (Matt Freeman 41), Adam Howard, Alex Powell (Simon Willet 19), James Tyson (Prell 61), Dan Solomi, Josh Burridge.