Billingham 53

Ilkley 0

STORM Dennis threatened to disrupt Ilkley’s travel plans but didn’t materialise until well after the game had finished leaving the small but dedicated band of supporters to reflect on another bad day at the office on their journey home.

An old and rather demeaning adage after a bad run of results and another 50+ points defeat would be to say Ilkley were lucky to get nil!

In fact, in one sense, they were. Their old friends Otley Rugby Club came to their rescue and loaned three players in Jack Leibster, Rory MacNab and Lewis Cooper. All had solid games and did the red, black and white shirt proud. Had these lads not filled in Ilkley would have struggled to put out a team, so a big thank you to Otley coach Charlie Maunder for his cooperation and to the three lads for playing.

In another sense, the Dalesmen played their hearts out against against a bigger stronger Billingham outfit, who were more familiar with and able to exploit the RFU owned AGP pitch installed two years ago. Billingham were unbeaten table toppers up until Christmas. They had demonstrated their silky skills and high paced rugby game honed to perfection in their victory at Stacks Field. A bad run of injuries and a loss of form had seen them drop from first to fifth place in 2020.

Coach Rhys Morgan remains philosophical but upbeat about his playing squad despite using almost 50 players so far this season, 25 of whom made their 1st XV debut. The back line for this match included debutant Harry Smith and contained only two over 20s along with a 10, Rory McNab who was meeting his teammates for the first time.

Ilkley were up against it before the start but there was always the chance of an upset. A strong crossfield wind favoured the home side but the Dalesmen set off in fine style, dominating the first five minutes play before a spilled ball brought them back to reality. A penalty brought up a scrum which Billingham won to produce a try making it 5-0.

Ilkley stayed in the game for a further 15 minutes and created several opportunities which came to nought. Another Billingham scrum close to the Ilkley line produced the home side’s second unconverted try.

A third try followed, this time from deeper and a great running line saw their centre Gardner score under the posts. The successful conversion made it 17-0.

A yellow card for Joe Lowes for leading with the forearm seemed rather harsh.

On the stroke of half-time Billingham bagged their bonus point try to make it 22-0 going into the break.

Those Ilkley supporters with memories of two years ago remember the Dalesmen coming back from a similar deficit to win 32-29 in a great second half. With the wind marginally in their favour there was always hope. But hope didn’t last long.

First a penalty try as the Ilkley scrum wilted made it 29-0. Then another when a side entry was overlooked pushed the score to 34-0.

Ilkley should have scored after a couple of rare penalties in their favour set up a golden opportunity, but it just wasn’t to be their day. Even a penalty kick at goal just get three points on the board drifted just wide.

Now the Ilkley discipline started to evaporate and that allowed another mesmerising piece of play to bamboozle everyone, including whistleblower Mr Jones, to make it 39-0.

Another yelllow card, this time for Nathan Hyde not rolling away ,was undisputable but nonetheless extremely unhelpful to the Ilkley cause.

Billingham added two more tries of some quality as the Dalesmen's stamina ebbed making the final score 53-0. Yes, this was yet another heavy and unwelcome defeat for Ilkley.

The seasoned campaigners from previous seasons Dan Lawrence, Luke Pearson, Joe Lowes, Ed Brown and Blake Morgan must find this campaign difficult to take, but credit to them for staying the course and giving their all.

Full marks to Joe Paton, Nathan Hyde, Matt Dakin and Louis Jerome for stepping up to the plate.

But most of all, massive praise to the “youngsters”: Harry Smith picked up Man-of-the-Match award for some good tackling and strong running reminiscent of his father Simon.

Finn Gateley has some serious “wheels” and a good defence to match, Harry Bolland looked the part and Dan James played well.

Kodie Brook, making his fifth or sixth appearance is a relative veteran and has some fine, hard running rugby skills.

Archie Elgood is a promising young scrum-half making the most his opportunities behind Blake Morgan.