ILKLEY were at their very best when they beat second placed Billingham at Stacks Field on Saturday.

The superlatives started as early as noon as a stellar display of Ilkley’s rugby talent, old and new assembled for the annual ex-players’ pre-match lunch.

No fewer than sixteen former captains graced the occasion and it was most fitting that one of them, Richard Scargill, acted as Master of Ceremonies.

Richard’s contribution to Ilkley RFC cannot be overestimated. His tireless efforts in fundraising are arguably the making of the modern club.

He and the rest of the well-lunched crowd were treated to a sumptuous team performance, which saw the Dalesmen concede an early try, but then come back with 29 unanswered points – and this against a Billingham side lying a comfortable second in the Northern Premier League.

Ilkley’s Charles Ramsay was missing from the starting 15, but Pat Atkinson moved to the number 10 berth, his full-back shirt being handed to Loughborough student Charlie Hudson to make his Ilkley debut.

Pressure from the visitors straight from the kick-off was soaked up, before Ilkley put together an astonishing 26 phases. An unfortunate knock-on spoiled the effect, but it was abundantly clear that Ilkley were up for this one.

Against the run of play in these early encounters, Billingham won a penalty, drilled into touch around 35 metres out. A clean take and the first of some very slick handling moves saw centre Eldon Myers ghost through Ilkley’s central midfield to go over under the posts. Captain Peter Evans added the extras and Ilkley were seven points in arrears.

Undeterred, Ilkley stormed back, skipper Elliot Morgan being held up in the tackle, giving Billingham the scrum, followed by a clearance kick to their own ten-metre line. Ilkley won this though and prop Ollie Holtham punched a large hole in the visitors’ defence.

The ruck won, Pat Atkinson’s incisive break set up a run-in under the posts for Morgan, duly improved by Atkinson to level the scores.

Into the second quarter, both sides were playing really attractive rugby, Billingham’s well-rehearsed short inside passes finding the odd gap - but not really gaining much ground as the Ilkley defence held firm.

Both sides won the occasional turnover, but it was the home side that was slowly getting on top. Atkinson’s line-kicking had been impressively faultless, a kick dead from a penalty proved to be his only aberration all afternoon.

A Billingham break out from their own half was countered and Ilkley won a line. Then it was Atkinson again, smashing through a few tackles to set up winger Struan Connor for his side’s second try.

Referee Elliot Lewis’s whistle followed the missed conversion attempt signalling the end of the first half, Ilkley leading 12-7.

The determination shown by Ilkley in the first half was racked up to eleven, as the Dalesmen started where they had left off.

A penalty awarded for off-side was improved from Ilkley’s point of view, as Billingham’s verbals saw them marched back a further ten metres.

J-H Johnson’s left boot took his side to their opponents’ five metre line and a subsequent scrum under the posts gave Max Mackay all the space he needed to score on the left. There was no conversion, but Ilkley led 17-7.

There was more pressure from the kick-off and it seemed the visitors were tiring. Flanker Joe Lowes bullocked his way forward and Connor went close again, only just halted by a desperate defence.

At the ruck, Billingham flanker Sean Richardson was clearly in trouble and the game was halted for ten minutes, as a suspected broken leg was diagnosed.

When the match resumed, an Ilkley scrum set up yet another maul from which Mackay emerged a second time, having notched the bonus-point try. Atkinson’s kick sailed over and it was 24-7.

Ilkley’s near total dominance was illustrated further when a beautifully timed incursion by Johnson set up a series of phases ending in a second try for Elliot Morgan to score out wide right. There was no conversion, but Ilkley led 29-7.

Stephen Burns came on for Luke Pearson and Dan Lawrence for Harry Wales, both forwards having worked their socks off. Will Howarth had replaced Blake Morgan, Ed Brown going to scrum-half.

The remainder of the game was played in midfield, neither side threatening the other’s line. Mackay went off to deserved applause, to be replaced by Pearson and Mr Lewis allowed very little injury-time.

This was Ilkley RFC at its very best – a full house watching a truly epic First Fifteen performance, one which even the vocal Billingham support found admirable.

The win moves Ilkley up to fifth place on 46 points, just one win away from the benchmark 50 that just about guarantees survival, but this side will be looking up rather than down the table.

An away match against struggling Vale of Lune follows this Saturday and then Rossendale at home. On this form, the Dalesmen should be looking for two more wins.