After that record defeat at league leaders Ealing the previous week, a visit from the club in second place, on a long run of victories, and the only team to defeat Ealing so far this season, might not have been Wharfedale’s next fixture of choice. In the event, the Greens grabbed the chance to fully restore confidence and pride.
They fell agonisingly short of halting the visitors’ surge into promotion contention – this being consecutive win number 15 – in a thunderous, totally absorbing match. It must be doubtful, however, whether Coventry have had to fight harder for victory in that impressive sequence. The Dalesmen pushed their famous visitors to the limit and, indeed, could well have clinched victory themselves in a tumultuous finale.
In the final analysis, Coventry, on the back foot for the greater part of the match, and sometimes adopting desperate measures in defence, prevailed largely because they made fewer mistakes. But they also had a clear edge in the line-outs – and this proved crucial. The Greens constructed far more scoring opportunities than their opponents, but three times had their attacking line-outs disrupted when a clean take might have set up a scoring maul.
Wharfedale hurled themselves at the visitors’ defence from the first whistle. After twice wrecking Coventry scrums, they pinned the visitors inside their ‘22’ for several minutes. A Dan Solomi break for the line was pulled back for ‘crossing’, but it seemed only a matter of time before an opening score.
That score arrived in the 10th minute – but it went to Coventry, in their only serious attack of the half. A penalty to a close touch was followed by a routinely efficient maul, and hooker Matt Price touched down in the left corner, winger Cliff Hodgson converting well.
The Greens dominated the remainder of the half. Two close line-outs and drives were held by determined defenders, and a straightforward penalty chance was eschewed in favour of another line-out. The gamble appeared to have worked, the Greens pack easing over the line, only for the referee to rule ‘held up’ – a decision that did not meet with the approval of proximate home fans.
Pressure on the embattled Coventry defence continued, but after a brace of line-outs were lost skipper James Doherty decided that the latest in a series of penalties should be aimed at the posts, stand-off James Guy duly obliging.
As the half drew to a close it seemed that three points would be the meagre return from 40 minutes of almost total ascendancy in terms of possession and territory. Then, in the final action, prop Jake Armstrong took a hand – or, rather, two hands – charging down full-back Barry Davies’ attempted clearance and following the ball over for a richly deserved try, Guy converting.
The 10-7 half-time lead became 13-7 with Guy’s second penalty four minutes after the restart, and the raucous home fans were starting to savour the prospect of an upset.
However, Coventry have professional quality in abundance, to which, this season, they have added determined resilience. Hodgson cancelled out Guy’s penalty within 5 minutes, and the visitors then enjoyed an extended period of possession in which their heavy pack – now with muddy conditions and the slope in their favour – caused increasing problems for the home forwards.
The breakthrough came in the 58th minute, with a reprise of Coventry’s first-half score: penalty to touch, controlled maul, Price again taking the honour, and Hodgson converting.
That was the end of the scoring – but far from the end of endeavour and excitement. Clearly offended by the turn of events, the Dalesmen redoubled their efforts. Fierce exchanges ensued, now once more mostly in the Coventry half.
A hacked break saw full-back Lloyd Davies go close; then Guy intercepted a pass on the half-way line and raced down the left wing. He appeared to have the beating of the defenders, but suddenly there was winger Dan Rundle with a truly impressive turn of speed to pull Guy down ten metres out.
The Greens’ last chance came in the final minute. A furious surge earned a penalty on the ‘22’. After time left was checked with the referee, Davidson set up a close line-out. But the ball – and the game – was lost.
Skipper Doherty confessed to mixed emotions after the final whistle: frustration at defeat in a game which the Greens had for so long held the upper hand, but pride in the collective effort of the club. He hoped that all the volunteers who had worked so hard to ensure that the game went ahead would feel rewarded for their efforts by the wholehearted performance on the pitch.
Wharfedale: L Davies; J Prell, C Hudson, T Davidson, O Cicognini; J Guy, J Doherty; J Altham (M Beesley 41), D Stockdale, J Armstrong (C Steel 41), A Howard, A Powell (J Armstrong 69), J Tyson, D Solomi, J Burridge. Referee: Marcus Caton