Northern Premier

Ilkley 29

Vale of Lune 5

by Sean Crannigan

THE question being had Ilkley ever played the men from The Vale? Had John of Gaunt’s successors ever trod the hallowed turf that was Stacks Field? The answer came from a carefully preserved news-clipping from one of those visiting successors, proving a match had indeed taken place as recently as 1952 – which Ilkley won by the way.

Further and more recent proof came from another visitor who had played at Ilkley in 1968 – they lost then too, so all augured well.

As no doubt other teams suffer from early-season injuries, so did the hosts, a table of injured Ilkley players helping to swell the numbers at lunch.

There was no J H Johnson, recovering from an injury first felt at Kendal; no Josh Cockerham, who had failed a recovery test relating to his head injury, and the Ilkley side looked to have a slightly makeshift feel about it.

There were more Morgans than in a Malvern showroom in the Ilkley starting 15, and they all played well.

Skipper Elliot led from the front and scored a gem of a try; brother Charles had a stupendous game at stand-off, possibly his best ever in an Ilkley jersey and his last game at home for a while; and finally there was the mercurial Blake, starting on the wing and finishing at scrum-half with in fine style.

There was probing from both sides and more handling errors than the seemingly perfect playing conditions warranted. Referee Jack Le Feuvre was his usual precise self and had a good game, albeit being a tad over-zealous on occasion.

Both sides managed to repel their opponents’ early forays, but it was Vale who opened the scoring, when Will Hunt finished off a good move, started by a solo jinking run by centre Fergus Owens. The conversion failed but Vale were up 5-0.

Ilkley responded well, their pressure eventually leading to a well-worked try from left wing Struan Connor, coming at pace to arch round the Vale defence to touch down wide right, Charles Morgan’s kick failing.

There followed a series of errors from both sides, but Ilkley were slowly gaining the ascendency, rejuvenated lock Stephen Burns leading from the front. His influence growing, some slick passing after a well-won ruck and Elliot Morgan completed the move with a score wide-out left. Brother Charles added the extras and Ilkley led 12-5 at half-time.

Ilkley had been red-hot favourites prior to the match and with Vale making so many handling errors, perhaps the home side’s lead should have been greater.

A lively start to the next 40 minutes followed coach Rhys Morgan’s words of encouragement at half-time and Ilkley’s front row had their opponents in all sorts of bother at a scrum under the Vale posts.

Mr Le Feuvre penalised the visitors, who took the opportunity to drop their guard. A quick tap and number eight Max McKay trundled over unopposed. Morgan’s kick made it 19-5.

After ten minutes, debutant Jack McKercher came for scrum-half Andy Dixon, Blake Morgan filling the number nine berth.

Both sides were keen to attack and there was some excellent running, unfortunately alternating with poor handling and mistimed passing.

Ilkley opted twice for scrums in the opposition 22, such was their growing dominance, but the Vale defence was resolute.

Eventually though, Ilkley put the game beyond Vale’s reach when Charles Morgan notched another three points for his side. This followed a deliberate knock-on by Vale full-back Jordan Darrington, who was carded for his rashness.

Playing against 14 men, Ilkley turned the screw. A sublime run by Blake Morgan from deep in his own half made a full 50 metres before he was hauled down and the ball hacked into touch by a desperate Vale defence.

The line won, Ilkley’s forwards rumbled close, their patient build-up finally rewarded with a bonus point try from Pat Power.

Charles Morgan’s kick ended the afternoon’s scoring at 29-5, but not the action as Ilkley countered from the kick-off with another piece of Morgan magic, this time from Elliot, breaking out from his own half. A powerful run through a flagging Vale defence and a final try looked certain, but…. well, we’ll draw a veil over that.

So a satisfactory five point win leaves Ilkley a comfortable fifth in the league.

A rest week follows before the trip to Rossendale, victors over Billingham and always a tough place to visit.