A HAT-TRICK by Struan Connor helped Ilkley beat Rossendale 20-3 at Stacks Field on Saturday.

Ilkley welcomed back No 8 Max McKay and lock Luke Pearson after the team’s disappointment at Vale of Lune last week when pressure was not turned into points, resulting in a narrow loss.

Following a good run of Ilkley results before that, Saturday’s match posed a challenge as to whether the Dalesmen could bounce back.

The Lancastrian visitors, Rossendale, who were known to play a direct, forceful brand of rugby, were expected to provide strong opposition.

In fact, Rossendale had won five of the six previous encounters between the two clubs and in October Ilkley had travelled to Rossendale on a very windy day and been buffeted both by the strong cross-wind and by the home pack, ultimately losing a high-scoring match.

However, the return fixture on a pitch and in weather conditions ideal for running rugby, resulted in a thoroughly deserved win for Ilkley, who stepped up their game against a strong, physical side.

Whilst both teams sought open play when in possession, Rossendale’s strength and professional technique saw them dominate initially.

They effectively utilised a ploy of their heavy-duty forwards to carry the ball in attacking from rucks and mauls, whilst Ilkley’s penchant for running the ball quickly and kicking well for position made for effective counter-attacking.

With only five minutes gone, after sustained pressure the visitors were awarded a penalty directly in front of the home posts. Nevertheless, the kick went wide in a real let-off.

Shortly after, more pressure from Rossendale brought another penalty in a similar position and this time it was converted to open the scoring, 3-0 to the visitors.

The game evened out as Ilkley rose to the challenge and to a man competed; tackling, wrestling and covering ferociously with Joe Lowes prominent.

After 20 minutes the game seemed to turn, starting with winger Struan Connor making an exceptional overhead catch to stymie a dangerous attack which carried on with an astute deep kick into the far corner by Blake Morgan, making Rossendale defend their line.

They then conceded successive penalty kicks, the first being taken back ten metres by the referee.

From the shortened distance, this was converted by Charles Ramsey, who had a mixed day with his goal kicking but an excellent time in stretching the visitors' full back and with his touch-finding kicks. This levelled the score, reflecting the shift in the balance of play.

The second penalty was missed by a whisker but shortly afterwards Connor again made another great catch before scorching down the left wing for over 40 yards for a superb individual try. The conversion was missed but Ilkley led 8-3.

Immediately after Rossendale were extremely fortunate not to have a player yellow-carded for a throat-high tackle, which was penalised by a touch-line raking penalty kick.

Other high tackles later were similarly leniently dealt with, although in the second half one of the Rossendale props secured a ten-minute rest for his transgression.

From the penalty deep into Rossendale’s 22, they defended resolutely only for Connor to make an interception as they tried to run the ball and then breeze over in the corner.

With the conversion missed, Ilkley led 13-3 - a fair reflection of their all-round competitiveness and inventive play by the backs, which had turned the tide.

Ten minutes into the second half, a penetrative thrust by Ilkley into the right corner was stoutly resisted but when Ilkley recycled the ball, Connor was put in for his third try of the game. A successful conversion made it 20-3.

Despite some more positive rugby, the scoreline remained unchanged at 20-3, and Ilkley turned the tables after their earlier defeat at Rawtenstall.

Ilkley's next first team fixture is away to Alnwick on Saturday, February 9.