Jack Johnson’s nerveless penalty with the very last kick of the game saved the Foresters’ blushes and prevented them from slipping to a fourth consecutive defeat.
The Foresters had lost an evening floodlit fixture to a very strong Durham University side, a defeat in which there was no shame at all, and then been on the wrong end of very close games the following two Saturdays at Yarnbury and at home to Sheffield. The talk before the game was about getting back to winning ways but it so nearly did not end like that.
As had happened the two previous Saturdays, Wharfedale started brightly and dominated the early exchanges. Initially the Greens’ scrum was under pressure but as the game went on the pack, with the front-row of George Altham, Tom Jackson and Jack Wills giving away several stone in weight, first gained parity and then came to dominate the Doncaster eight. Attacking down the hill, the Foresters had the lion’s share of possession and territory but failed to make this count on the scoreboard. The Doncaster defence throughout the game was resolute but there were a number of opportunities when errors and a lack of composure prevented the Greens from finishing off promising moves. Their only score of the half came from a driven line-out which powered across the line for Jack Kitching to claim the try. Johnson was wide with the conversion but thankfully this was to be his only miss.
Wharfedale were made to pay for their profligacy right at the end of the half when Phoenix worked the play into the Wharfedale half. Their attack seemed to have been repelled but a break through the middle of a maul caught the young Greens off guard and the game was levelled. The conversion was missed.
The second half was a scrappy affair. Doncaster used the wind and the slope to enjoy more time in the Wharfedale half but rarely looked like adding further points. The back-row of Matt Hall, Jake Starkey and Kitching were at the heart of the Greens’ impressive defensive effort. Similarly, the Foresters’ attacking efforts were again thwarted by a combination of strong defence and frustrating mistakes. The Foresters had a period of pressure camped close to the Doncaster line but could find no way through or round the Phoenix defenders. There were strong runs from Will Lawn, back at scrum-half, Ollie Snowdon, playing out of position in the centre, and hard yards gained by all forwards, but all to no avail.
The game seemed to be heading for a 5-5 draw when the Greens’ pressure finally resulted in a penalty for offside. Johnson made the kick into the wind from 35 metres out and the home side needed only to keep possession for the remaining couple of minutes to seal the win. Perhaps symptomatic of such a young, inexperienced side but the ball was instead moved wide. Doncaster pressed and forced Will Bell to kick clear up to the halfway line. The home support might have breathed a sigh of relief when the Doncaster full-back kicked the ball back into the Wharfedale 22. However, any relief was quickly quashed as there was no cover to gather the kick and the Doncaster player was able to run through and touch down for the try without a Green defender within 10 yards.
With less than two minutes to play, the game seemed lost and it is to the great credit of Rhys Davies’ team that they showed the determination to regain possession from the kick-off and work their way close to the line. An attacking scrum was awarded and the Green forwards drove Doncaster backwards winning the crucial penalty. Johnson had the composure to make it count.