Wharfedale recorded a thoroughly deserved victory with a team performance that Jon Feeley and the large crowd could be proud of. If the first half was a close affair that Dale just edged to lead 18-10, the Green Machine started to work really well in the second period, domination by the pack leading to two penalty tries and a convincing win.
The opening exchanges were full of mistakes by both sides. Neither team could settle and only two penalties were scored during this period. Darlington went first and missed before Garry Law was successful after 10 minutes. Tom Davidson responded for Wharfedale after 16 minutes to level the scores.
Dale then started to exert pressure on the Darlington line. After a couple of handling errors Dale had a scrum on their own 10 metre line. A brilliant drive resulted in a penalty. Tom Davidson placed the ball deep into Park’s 22 for an attacking line out. Failing with the drive Dale tried a few pick and goes before a penalty was pending. Phil Woodhead took the chance to drop a goal however to take Dale into the lead.
From the restart Rob Baldwin and Josh Burridge combined to put pressure on the visitors which saw a yellow card for the visitors’ no 7, Jack Allcock.
Although a man down it was Darlington who took control with some clinical running from their backs. Wharfedale’s tackling was generally solid all afternoon. From a quick line-out full-back Henry Robinson (who was to be a thorn in the Greens’ side all afternoon) broke through four tackles before giving the scoring pass to Gary Law, who himself added the points.
The home side responded quickly. After an exchange of penalty decisions Davidson sent the ball into Darlington’s 22. From the ensuing line-out the ball was run left: Scott Jordan joined the line from full back and made a decisive break before feeding Oliver Cicognini, whose try wide on the left gave Dale the lead. Davidson secured the extra two points.
By half-time, sustained pressure from Dale had led to two more yellow cards for Darlington, Cameron Mitchell and then Matthew Thompson both taking a rest after 36 and 37 minutes respectively. Thompson’s enforced departure meant that Darlington could no longer field a full front row, depriving Wharfedale of a good chance of a pushover from to a close scrum, opting for the line-out. The catch-and-drive was well executed and Ian Larkin was accredited with the score. Davidson struck the upright on the wrong side to miss his first shot at goal and spoil a perfect record.
It was a hearty cheer that greeted the Greens as they took a well-earned half time break. It was Darlington’s 13 men, however, who began the second half the better when Law converted another penalty to narrow the score to 18-13. But by now Dale were ready to take control and even when Darlington returned to full strength they were now dominating the game.
Ignoring an easy three points from a penalty in front of the posts, they went for a line-out in the corner. The catch and drive was held up and then charges at the line were repelled by the desperate Darlington defence, winning a reprieve when the ball was adjudged to have been held up.
Still the Green Machine found another gear. With cries of ‘river’ echoing around the ground they drove the full Darlington eight back with something approaching ease, and the inevitable penalty try, converted by Davidson, stretched the Greens’ lead to 25 -13.
But resilient Darlington fought back, exerting considerable pressure on the home line and drawing the best out of the home defence. Joe Altham replaced man-of –the-match Matt Beesley on 57 minutes, but had been on the pitch for only a couple of minutes before he became the fourth recipient of referee Gareth Holsgrove’s yellow card. Park took immediate advantage, and from a catch and drive Jamie Allcock brought his side to within a score at 25-18. The scorer, however, was shown his second yellow card on 75 minutes when he kicked the ball out of a ruck close to his line, and his tiring colleagues had little resistance left, and a second penalty try from a scrummage infringement brought the final score to 32-18.
This was a positive performance from Wharfedale, with fine performances all over the pitch. The back row trio of Baldwin, Howick and Josh Burridge were immense, but what may have pleased the management most is the side’s disciplined defence, with young players maturing rapidly and showing they are ready for the tests to come.
Wharfedale: Scott Jordan; Matt Van Sertima, Cameron Hudson, Tom Davidson, Oliver Cicognini; Harry Bullough, Philip Woodhead; Matt Beesley, Ian Larkin, Jake Armstrong, Simon Willet, Richard Rhodes (c), Josh Burridge, Chris Howick, Rob Baldwin. Replacements: Joe Altham, Dan Stockdale, Adam Howard, Tom Burridge, Will Bell.