With eight enforced changes to the Ilkley team that had suffered two narrow defeats at the hands of basement clubs Sandal and Scunthorpe, many in the Stacks Field clubroom were downbeat about their side’s prospects for this encounter with an unpredictable but big Pontefract side.

A result was hugely important for both sides, Pontefract to stay in touch with the bottom three and Ilkley to pull away from the five clubs below them in this hugely competitive Regional One North East league.

The coaching team of Rhys Morgan and Andrew Clithero not only had to scrabble together a side, but they then motivated it to pull off a superb 25-3 victory.

But those changes to nearly half of the first XV proved a catalyst for a great performance which exceeded expectations. 

JH Johnson interrupted a family birthday celebration in the Lakes to take up his old slot on the wing, while Will Marlow was on the other wing.

Harry Harrison made a welcome return at centre, veteran Eddie Brown took the number 10 shirt and Ben Walker switched to full back.

In the forwards, Ollie Dennis made his first start in the second row and Adam Booth returned at No.8.

The eighth change to the matchday squad was Stephen Costello, who made a seasonal return on the bench.

The match could not have had a better start for the home supporters.

An Ilkley scrum was won on the left of the Pontefract 10 metre line and the ball was brilliantly whizzed out wide at lightning speed for Jordan Cummins to crash over for a great opening try.

From the restart, Marlow gathered an Archie Elgood box kick and once again, the ball was spun out wide for Johnson to put Walker in for a second try inside five minutes. Both conversions were wide but few in the crowd were complaining about the hosts racing into a 10-0 lead so soon after kick off.

Inevitably, the game became tighter but the running of Harrison, Marlow and Walker was dazzling, amply aided and abetted by Elgood and the faultless Brown.

A great burst from Walker had Pontefract chasing shadows until two players tackled him coming from opposite directions.

There was a shuddering clash of heads causing both to leave the field. Referee Adam Robson, effective, positive and fair throughout, was quickly on the case to help out.

Pontefract pushed Ilkley off the resulting scrum and were rewarded with a penalty which was successfully despatched for their only three points of the match. 

The Dalesmen did not let up thereafter, with the forwards getting in on the act with some amazing turnovers and making the best of a difficult day at the scrum.

They had some serious defending to do too, and did that extremely well, with the best example coming from a Pontefract five-metre scrum.

Three times their big men drove at the Ilkley line but three times they were repelled, with the last thrust unceremoniously bundled into touch via the corner flag.

Costello and Rob Sigsworth were called into action and eventually the threat was snuffed out.

Frustrated at their failure to cross the whitewash, Pontefract were penalised for backchat.

Two penalties later and the Dalesmen had a lineout in Pontefract’s half.

Elgood threw long to find his fly half Harrison, who added some vital metres before feeding Costello.

Tireless skipper Joe Lowes on his shoulder to bag Ilkley’s third try under the posts and Brown’s conversion was good to make it 17-3 to the hosts seven minutes before the interval.

Half-time came with Ilkley well in front and they produced more good work in defence and attack after the break.

Pontefract went close at the start of the second half but were hunted down five metres out and coughed up a penalty.

Johnson returned the compliment by going close himself but he was unable to make it over the line for Ilkley.

The tackle of the day was by Pontefract on Walker but the full back is made of stern stuff and was soon up and back in the fray.

From a scrum on halfway he, Harrison and Costello took the Dalesmen to Pontefract’s five-metre line.

A knock on in the tackle spoiled that foray but Ilkley returned to the 22 with a vengeance.

Johnson found himself with ball in hand 10 metres out and had to back those ageing legs once more to crash over for his side’s bonus point try.

That made the score 22-3 and seemed to suck the life out of Pontefract.

While there was still plenty of Morgan and Clithero’s defensive tactics to be called on, it always seemed Ilkley were the more likely to score again.

Charlie Head made a proper hooker’s break. going fully 30 metres before being tackled as his pass was knocked down by the defender.

Ten minutes before the end, Brown was presented with a straightforward kick at goal to make the final score a highly creditable 25-3 to Ilkley.

This weekend, the Dalesmen travel to table toppers York, where an upset would somewhat avenge their last-minute loss to the Minstermen in the early season home game. Kick-off is at 3pm.