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Christmas cheer increases as Ilkley learn of Doncaster Phoenix's loss
Ilkley 24, Wath-Upon-Dearne 0
Christmas came early to Stacks Field, as Ilkley’s players presented their followers with a stunning second-half performance which shot them straight back to the top of SSE Yorkshire Division One, courtesy of a five point 24-0 win.
There wasn’t much wrong with the first half either, as an excellent display of aggressive defence kept the south Yorkshire visitors at bay.
Wath, lying third behind Ilkley before the match, were the better attacking side for these 40 minutes, but failed to come away with even a penalty, Andrew Appleyard missing each of his three attempts in the gusty conditions.
Ilkley were denied the services of Pete Small, who had been involved in a car accident the night before, so Gus Ramsey came into the back row, Ollie Renton moving to partner Steve Burns in the second row. J-H Johnson made a welcome return on the left wing.
The wind certainly did no favours to those under high balls, both sides making handling errors that would have not occurred in more clement conditions.
On the other hand, a Josh Kimber clearance kick travelled a good 60 metres after Ramsey had snaffled the ball after it squirted out from an attacking Wath scrum.
Ilkley’s forwards were penalised twice in quick succession and were lucky not to have been six points behind after 20 minutes.
Wath’s assaults continued relentlessly, but some truly crunching tackles from the Ilkley pack kept them out.
With Wath so good at recycling the ball, it came as no surprise when, eventually, referee Gary Dixon’s patience wore out and, having spoken to both skippers, gave Ilkley’s Iain Mackenzie ten minutes for persistent offending at the breakdowns.
The resultant penalty was missed again and that signalled the end of Wath’s domination.
Their final foray of the first half into the home side’s 22 broke down in the tackle, Renton stole the ball and fed Cooper and he and J-H Johnson made 40 metres before the latter chipped ahead.
Luckless full back Ian Barker made a hash of clearing the danger and, before anyone knew it, there was Cooper scampering over for a try which was very much against the run of play. Kimber’s conversion attempt hit a post, but Ilkley led 5-0 at the break.
The second half began with a contender for try of the season as Paul Petchey fielded a stray kick in his own half and set off on a jinking run, leaving Wath defenders in his wake.
Reaching Wath’s 22, he off-loaded to the supporting Alistair Monks, who in turn gave a lovely reverse pass to Steve Nolson,who crashed over for Ilkley’s second try. Kimber’s conversion made it 12-0.
With much more possession in the half, Ilkley’s backs looked more dangerous as time went on.
A couple of injudicious kicks and a knock-on handed the advantage back to Wath, but the Ilkley defence held firm and, from a breakout from their own 22, Johnson was high tackled by Wath’s Barker and off he went for ten.
Wath never once gave up trying and only Ilkley’s impressive tackle count kept the visitors out on a couple of occasions.
Then came the defining moment of the match. From a line on the Wath 22, the Ilkley pack mauled their way to within five metres, only for Wath’s Martin Balshaw to have a rush of blood and take out Mackenzie. Referee Dixon awarded a penalty try and Kimber’s conversion made it 19-0.
The last 15 minutes belonged to Ilkley. A storming Stewart Brewer run saw the flanker halted inches from the line, then a Stuart Vincent run was similarly stopped.
A five-metre scrum was won after great work by Tom Baxter, who went over but was held up, but Ilkley opted to use the backs when a back-row move would probably have been wiser.
Ilkley did not give up their hunt for the bonus-point try though and, with two minutes to go, a great handling move involving Renton, Burns, Kimber and Monks ended with Petchey going over on his opposite wing after an astute change of direction. The match ended as the conversion fell short.
This was an outstanding display by Ilkley, both in attack and defence, and they are now four points clear of second-placed Dinnington with a three-week break to look forward to.
The Christmas cheer continued as news filtered through that leaders Doncaster Phoenix had also lost at Selby.
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