This was a top of the table clash with Wharfedale hosting second placed Sheffield Tigers. It was always going to be a cagey, dogged affair. Wharfedale beat their nearest rivals 5-21 back in November but it wasn’t an easy game and the Tigers travelled to the Avenue with revenge their goal.
Weather conditions flipped between dreadful and truly appalling (even for Threshfield!!) with torrential icy rain and strong winds. It was not a day for free-flowing rugby. Defence held sway with few clear scoring opportunities for either side.
Wharfedale controlled most of the possession and territory in both halves. They also held sway at the scrum and, with the weather making a lottery of the lineouts, their advantage in these areas should have provided the platform for victory. However, they also led the statistics in handling errors which effectively nullified their backs as an attacking force.
Receiving the ball uphill and into the wind the Foresters quickly established control through a series of strong drives and half breaks that gave them a penalty which they kicked to the corner. They won the lineout and started their mauling march to the line only to be halted by a fumble and knock on at close quarters. Despite conceding field position from the following clearance kick Wharfedale were soon back in the same corner with another lineout. This time the ball was knocked on at the lineout.
For the first quarter the men in green played all the rugby but solid defence together with a stream of penalties for Sheffield being off side at the breakdown meant they never created any momentum. Eventually “Sir” lost patience with the Tigers and their talkative, tattooed no 8 found himself in the sin bin.
With a man advantage it seemed inevitable that Wharfedale would open the scoring, but it was not to be. Having easily won a scrum midfield Wharfedale worked the ball to the narrow side but miscommunication at the base of an ensuing ruck enabled Tigers to hack through with their hooker gathering the ball and racing under the posts to touchdown for a converted try and an incredibly unlikely lead. 0-7 to the Tigers.
Tom Mann ran the ball back strongly from the kick off. He was a thorn in the side of the Tigers all day, beating defenders and putting Dale on the front foot. Working the ball back upfield Dale set the pattern for much of the rest of the half. As soon as they were close to the red-zone a knock on, forward pass or lineout mix up would see them on their heels again.
Eventually Sheffield had a period of possession late in the first half, and back to fifteen men they spent the final moments camped on the Green’s goal line. Defence was mighty with chop and choke tackles driving Sheffield back but the half went on and on, with time added on for a potentially serious injury for Andrew Rhodes (thankfully he was able to leave the field unaided). The pressure eventually led to a penalty which Sheffield gladly kicked for another three points. 0-10 at half time.
The second half was perhaps even more disappointing for Wharfedale, with the elements and the slope in their favour this was the time to make the visitors pay. Dropping the ball during the first attack did not bode well though and the Forresters had to soak up a sustained period of Sheffield pressure before once again wresting the initiative for long periods.
The Sheffield defence was magnificent, nuffing out everything that the Green backs could throw at them and Wharfedale’s desperation to get back into the game resulted in poor decision making; trying Hollywood offloads in the pouring rain and forcing passes in dangerously tight areas. It was such a pass, from their fly half on the narrow side, that was intercepted and led to a second breakaway try for the Tigers. 0-15, the game was slipping away from Wharfedale.
Even when they are having a very bad day at the office the Forresters never stop trying. Awarded a scrum in midfield, the Dale’s pack pushed the Tigers back into their half and into disarray in the forwards. Wharfedale surged through a series of rucks before captain Tom Whyte was driven over for a converted score. 7-15.
There was still time for the Greens to mount a rescue mission, but the game descended into stalemate. With Sheffield two scores ahead they were happy to spend time defending and let the Foresters make the running in what were by now atrocious weather conditions.
The game ended with a nice piece of symmetry; Sheffield dropping the ball, giving Wharfedale the chance to kick through for their speedsters Eddie Gill and Tom Mann to chase for a losing bonus point…Who should be there to gather the ball and kick it into touch to end the game and spark jubilant South Yorkshire celebrations? The Sheffield hooker, of course.
This was an uncharacteristic Forester’s performance, riddled with errors and lacking in penetration and coach Rob Burnett admitted the dressing room was “pretty downbeat” after the game. However, there are big games still to come and the Forrester’s Faithful know their team can and will play much better.
Foresters: – 1. J Wells, 2. J Parkinson, 3. S Booker, 4. B Leacock, 5. E Stockton, 6. J Taylor, 7. T Whyte (c), 8. C Swainson, 9. M Bell, 10. R MacNab, 11. E Gill, 12. A Rhodes, 13. B Parkinson, 14. S Mason, 15. T Mann.
Replacements: – 16. A Stubbs, 17. G Altham, 18. J Huck, 19. S Smith, 20. A Stockdale.