Having completed their initial target for the season by winning, yet again, the Yorkshire Merit League – Premiership the Foresters embarked on their second objective, the newly established Northern Pilot League. Those wishing to see the results and the league table should visit www.englandrugby.com/fixtures-and-results/competitions/northern-pilot-league/
This will be a far stiffer test for the Greens with the first match of this inaugural competition against old rivals Harrogate. The visitor’s first team game was called off and they arrived at the Avenue with a strong side. Should this be an illustration of what to expect from this new format, then we are in for a treat. The visitors were in front from the end of the first quarter of the game until the last minute.
During the first few minutes of the game both sides were feeling the other out. After missing one penalty, following an infringement by Harrogate, the visitors were duly punished for committing a similar offence by a penalty from James Druce. A series of mistakes by the Greens gave the visitors the opportunity to quickly make amends and they went over for a well worked try, which was not converted, making a score of 3-5. The Harrogate pack was considerably heavier than the home side’s but was not able to show any great advantage at this stage of the game. Wharfedale’s front row of George Altham, Jake Parkinson and James Huck showed resilience, especially in the first half assisted by a second row combination of Rhys Davies and Sam Smith.
In the second quarter the home side was awarded another penalty. Druce made no mistake, thus bringing the score to 6-5 to the Foresters. Harrogate then started to play some good attacking rugby and after a few indifferent tackles by the Greens, they went over for another well worked try. The conversion was missed but this was atoned for shortly afterwards when they converted a penalty making a score of 6-13 to the visitors. The Foresters attempts at passing movements proving inadequate with many mistakes during this period.
It was ding dong rugby at its best, with neither side able to gain dominance over the other and at half time the Wharfedale faithful, of whom there were many, hoped that the Foresters would now gain some serious territorial advantage playing towards the river. One major problem though was the lineout. As far as the Greens were concerned it was well below par when compared with their normal excellence in this area. Tom Whyte was badly missed and things did not improve much in the second half. Harry Bullough was moved from full back to fly half for the start of the second half with Robbie Davidson taking over at full back. This was not as productive as has been hoped due to the new number 10 not being able to exert his normal influence on the game. There was a certain cohesion missing today but it was not due to the lack of effort.
Druce came up with a superb penalty conversion clawing things back to a score of 9-13. This did not last long though, as Harrogate scored another well worked try, which was well converted, somewhat luckily, off the post and giving a position of major concern to the home side with the visitors now leading by 20 points to 9. The position was looking a little grim but never write the Foresters off!
The three-quarter line of Druce, Robbie Davidon, who had made some telling breaks, Simon Crabtree equally thrustful and powerful and the always impressive Josh Prell, looked dangerous at all times. This gave confidence to the Greens, as with good support from Max Bell and Will Davidson, a try always looked on the cards. The replacements used at different times throughout the game, Matt Close, Jake Starkey, Tom Baines, Andy Rhodes, Ben Parkinson and Jimmy Bullough, all supported the cause admirably and it could be said that when the latter came on, fresh impetus was installed and things began to click to the Foresters advantage. The first driving force was provided by Robbie Davidson who had now taken over the kicking duties and scored a good penalty making the score 12-20. Following good work by the forwards Huck went over for a try which was converted by Davidson and suddenly the major fight-back was on with the scoreboard showing 19-20, still to Harrogate.
Tension was now increased, as coming to the latter stages of this excellent competitive match, Harrogate went over in the corner for what was quite a brilliant try. It was not converted but the writing looked to be on the wall. The visitors scrum half was yellow carded when the Greens pressure was intense and the Foresters forwards were rampant, driving for the line with determination, knowing the final whistle was imminent but refusing to accept defeat. From this foray came a try from Sam Smith, who did exceedingly well by forcing himself over the opposition’s line resulting in a score of 25-24 to the visitors. But cometh the hour and cometh the man! Up stepped Robbie Davidson, cool as a cucumber, to clinically pierce the posts. The whistle blew immediately and gave a final score of 26 -25 to the Foresters.
Throughout the game the defence provided by the forwards in particular was most impressive and the back row of Matt Hall, Chris Howick and Jack Kitching, were exemplary with their cover tackling and counter attacking. From the pack special mention to be made of Howick and Hall for their contribution to the cause at all times. Howick made several telling bursts. Later in the game, as the opposition’s weight began to tell, the Wharfedale lads stood firm, refusing to be dominated by the powerful Harrogate pressure. Credit is due for their approach and attitude. Clearly, one other important factor had been the home side’s fitness.
Wharfedale also had two exciting returns from injury. Chris Howick, completed forty minutes in the back row, injected vim and vigour into both attack and defence, and at the breakdown. Jimmy Bullough brought aggression, effervescence and quality distribution to the No 9 role for the last 25 minutes.
This was a terrific game in front of a very well attended crowd, against very good opposition and the Foresters, whilst possibly not at their absolute best, refused to concede in what was a scintillating game of rugby. Thanks to all players involved and a brilliant start to this new league.
Team:- Harry Bullough, James Druce, Robbie Davidson, Simon Crabtree, Josh Prell, Will Davidson, Max Bell, George Altham, Jake Parkinson, James Huck, Rhys Davies, Sam Smith, Matt Hall, Chris Howick, Jack Kitching.
Replacements :- Matt Close, Jake Starkey, Tom Baines, Andy Rhodes, Ben Parkinson, Jimmy Bullough.