Ilkley 7

Harrogate 38

WITH so many seasoned campaigners missing from the starting line-up and a quiet pre-season build-up, Ilkley’s supporters didn’t know what to expect from the teamsheet, which was bursting with new names.

What they got though was a good, gutsy performance against a side that will most certainly be challenging for promotion come next April.

Stacks Field looked resplendent in the early autumn sunshine and Ilkley’s first few minutes were equally bright, patiently building the moves and recycling well.

The Harrogate defence though was secure and was to become the most telling feature of the game. A poor kick ahead was fielded by the visitors’ full-back, David Doherty, who set up a counter-attack.

When Ilkley were somewhat harshly penalised for a high tackle, Doherty’s kick took his side to 15m out. Play was halted after the line for what appeared to be a head injury to Ilkley’s No 8, Sam Rowntree, who had to leave the field, looking distinctively groggy.

J-H Johnson stepped in, but when Harrogate won the scrum, Doherty was on hand to find a gap in the Ilkley defence to open the scoring wide on the left. Sam Fox’s kick made it 7-0 to the visitors.

Ilkley restarted well, but when possession was lost at the breakdown in the opposition half, the ball was rifled back into the Ilkley 22.

The line was won, but the ball went loose and centre Harry Barnard pounced to put Doherty in for his second. The kick was unsuccessful, but Ilkley were now 12-0 behind.

Further Harrogate pressure was well dealt with, but Ilkley suffered further disruption to their pack when Peter Erskine had to be replaced by Alec Graham.

Harrogate once again demonstrated their strength in the scrum, forcing a penalty. The ball reached left wing Sam Parry who scorched over under the posts. Fox’s kick made it 19-0.

Despite going close on the right wing, Ilkley were finding the lock of the Harrogate defence difficult to pick and their cause was not helped when a clearance kick rooted into the Ilkley 22 was chased by a player who was yards offside.

Ilkley’s clearance kick was sliced but Harrogate obligingly knocked on and Ilkley were saved, though not for long.

More pressure at the scrum and Ilkley newcomer Ed King saw yellow. With the Ilkley pack disrupted yet again, Harrogate’s Jonny Coser bullied his way through a few tackles to set up lock Sam Brady to score under the posts. Fox converted and it was 26-0.

The last couple of minutes of the half saw Ilkley win a penalty for a high tackle, but when the line was lost, referee Mr Doig blew to end proceedings and the chance was gone.

The first 20 minutes of the second half were scoreless, but both sides came close. Ilkley matched their opponents in just about all departments, though Harrogate had the edge at the breakdown. Johnson came close but his kick and chase was a tad overcooked and the ball ran dead.

Then it was Harrogate’s turn to go close, but the signal for a foot in touch was eventually spotted by Mr Doig and play went back into the Harrogate half. The visitors ground their way back into the Ilkley 22 but possession was lost and Ilkley countered well.

The ball was spun wide and after some intelligent interplay in the backs, centre Callum Smithson opened his account with a very well taken team-try, converted by Chuckie Ramsay to bring the score to 26-7. At this stage of the game, Ilkley were on a bit of a high, their fitness having brought them right back into it.

Whilst Harrogate might have been tiring a little, they still had enough gas in the tank to set up Parry for a very well-taken try in the corner, the winger squeezing through the smallest of gaps to dot down. The scored was 31-7 now with ten minutes remaining.

Ilkley continued to work hard and tackle hard and a chip over the defence nearly came off and then a penalty by Smithson took Ilkley to ten metres out.

The resultant maul was well defended by Harrogate and eventually they were awarded the scrum and cleared their lines.

With nothing to lose now, Ilkley threw the ball about, but could make no further headway and it was unfortunate the last move of the match resulted in a fortuitous try for Doherty, when a cross kick was fumbled and the full-back simply collected the loose ball and strolled over. Fox’s conversion ended the game with a flattering 38-7 scoreline to the ‘gate.

This young Ilkley side did well to soak up as much pressure as they did and they can hold their heads high. Not every defence will be as mean as Harrogate’s in this league and with the high level of fitness displayed in this encounter, Ilkley will surely find themselves in the position of finishing off sides that don’t match them for it.

This Saturday the Dalesmen will make the long trip to Carlisle.