Ilkley 20 Old Brodleians 13
There was a real atmosphere of tension hanging over Stacks Field for the visit of Old Brodleians.
A 17-13 reversal at Hipperholme was one of the Dalesmen’s rare defeats early in the season.
This added to the pressure of being equal top of the league and defending a 13-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Mercifully the forecast heavy rain held off until the final whistle and, thanks to a morning of swirling wind, the pitch was in remarkably good condition.
Referee Jim Garbutt had officiated for Ilkley’s win at Scarborough when the penalty count had been massively against the Dalesmen.
His presence only added to the tension amongst the home fans.
Once again he ruled heavily against the Dalesmen and his judgement certainly upset their equilibrium.
Ilkley started strongly and, in fact, got the first penalty which set up a fine set of phases only for it end with the splendid Stuart Brewer held up on the line.
The next set saw Brewer penalised and then turnover a great ball off the back of a Brods' scrum.
Gus Ramsay charged for the line and skilfully found the fast charging Brewer who bullocked over for the try.
The 5-0 lead calmed nerves, at least on the terraces, but raw tension was still apparent on the field as erratic Ilkley play gave Brods the opportunity to camp in their 22 for a good 20 minutes.
Two scoring opportunities were thwarted on the line. Brods were turning on the style with big prop Loma Kivalu punching holes to set what looked like a really useful back line in motion.
Now that tenacious Ilkley defence absolutely had to produce the goods. The tackling of Steve Burns, John Cooksey and Olly Renton was exceptional.
It seemed inevitable that Brods would profit from their purple patch and, sure enough, Kristian Sharples found a few inches of space down the left to charge 25 metres to level the scores.
The try seemed to have sapped Brods’ energy and it was the Dalesmen who finished the final few minutes of the half strongly. Ryan Cooper copied Sharples’ charge down the right but was stopped just short.
The recycled ball earned Ilkley a penalty after Brewer had again been held up and Tom Collard landed the goal for an 8-5 lead.
Ilkley needed to be more disciplined in the second half, particularly when they fell behind as Sharples took advantage of a clearance kick to score his second try and put Brods 10-8 up.
A rare penalty in Ilkley’s favour on the Brods’ 22 was nudged into touch by the excellent Collard who was deputising for regular stand-off Josh Kimber.
Ilkley’s line-out is a key weapon. Pete Small took the ball at the front and the drive saw Renton score the try.
It gave his side a 13-10 lead but still the tension was palpable. Brods missed a penalty as they stepped up the pressure.
Thankfully the Ilkley pack was up to the test. They forced their way up field and provided the platform for half backs Cooper and Collard to combine to find Alistair Monks in space.
He cut inside and headed straight for the posts to set the ball up perfectly for big lock Small to pick up and dive over for the try which Collard converted to put daylight between the sides at 20-10.
Still Brods refused to lie down and with referee Garbutt taking exception to Ilkley’s play at the breakdown they exerted pressure.
Brods kicked one penalty to reduce the deficit to seven points, and Ilkley, who wanted a fourth try to secure a bonus point, were pinned in their own half.
In the end they had to be happy to preserve the win which means they are a point behind leaders Dinnington and three ahead of Doncaster Phoenix who suffered a shock home defeat to Bridlington.
Phoenix now face a daunting visit to Dinnington on Saturday while Ilkley head for lowly Pont-efract.
There appears to be no end in sight to the tension and drama.