A delighted Jon Feeley was fulsome in praise for his team’s performance after this tensely entertaining match. The Greens’ head coach was conscious that the disappointment of the previous week’s surprisingly heavy defeat at Old Albanians might well have affected players’ confidence. In the event he, and the faithful fans who braved the weather, thrilled to a triumph based on total commitment and indefatigable team spirit.
Blaydon had won each of the previous four matches between the sides, and as this game entered its closing stages it seemed their run could continue. They were grimly protecting an unlikely 7-point lead having faced up to, and coped admirably with intense pressure as the Dalesmen fought to convert overwhelming superiority in possession and territory into points.
But, with victory so nearly earned, the visitors finally cracked. Nine minutes remained on the clock as the Greens drove toward the posts. A ruck formed. Crows stand-off Andy Baggett interfered with the ball on the ground, conceded the penalty, and was yellow-carded out of the rest of the match.
The penalty was converted, and four minutes later the depleted defence was breached for the winning score. It was undoubtedly a just outcome – but it was oh so close!
Wharfedale dominated the early exchanges, pounding the Blaydon defence. Full-back Taylor Prell contributed two surging runs, the second of which resulted in a 38-metre penalty chance, Tom Davidson’s shot sailing just wide.
Incessant pressure continued, but without a clear-cut chance resulting, until the 14th minute. Stand-off James Guy marked his first-team debut by charging down scrum-half James Christie’s attempted clearance and following up for the try.
There was more bad luck for Davidson, his conversion kick striking a post, but further scores for the rampant Greens seemed inevitable. However, Blaydon had their own script.
In their first venture into home territory they conjured an equalising try. A 22nd-minute penalty to a 15-metre touch, efficient drive, and they were over the Greens’ line. The referee needed his assistant’s help on the decision, but the try, credited to prop Rob Kalbraier, was awarded.
Blaydon posed occasional fleeting threats in the second quarter, and a left-wing surge and kick ahead caused concern until home winger Oliver Cicognini raced back to claim the ball in the try area, but action remained predominately in the visitors’ half.
However, although sparkling breaks by flanker Dan Solomi (twice), and another by Prell should have led to tries, the Blaydon defence somehow held out for the score at the break to remain at 5-all.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first, but after absorbing early pressure Blaydon suddenly broke out with a vengeance. A sustained attack on the home line culminated in a brave 45th-minute try for Christie – atoning for his earlier mistake – well converted by Baggett.
The game had been turned on its head, but Wharfedale knuckled down and resumed control – now virtually total.
Davidson sent a series of penalties to touch for attacking line-outs. In the 58th minute the pack looked to have claimed the breakthrough try with a strong drive over the line. Referee Philip Davies was unsighted, and with no apparent helpful advice coming from his assistants, ordered a ‘scrum-5’.
That attack ended with a Wharfedale knock-on. Two more close line-outs followed, with drives to within inches of the line, but still the Blaydon defence, albeit increasingly desperate, refused to yield.
Then, at last, the crack appeared. Baggett’s crucial error and dismissal prompted the final onslaught from the Greens. Davidson gratefully accepted the simple penalty to reduce the deficit and then set up yet another close line-out. This time the forwards exploited the chance in style with an unstoppable surge over the line, No 8 Josh Burridge claiming the honour.
Davidson’s splendid conversion from the touch-line completed the scoring. The Dalesmen were then content to see out the remaining minutes in relative mid-field comfort.
Wharfedale: T Prell; S Jordan, M Van Sertima (L Davies 71, T Davidson, O Cicognini; J Guy, J Doherty (P Woodhead 62); C Steel (J Armstrong 55), I Larkin (D Stockdale 34), J Armstrong (M Beesley 34; C Steel 66), S Willet (J Mason 24), R Rhodes, A Howard (M Beesley 78), D Solomi, J Burridge.