‘Dale 24-22 Aire
Close encounter up at Leyburn
On a warm Saturday afternoon, Aire travelled to 3rd-placed Wensledale looking to carry on their winning form that had been put on hold over the past month thanks to the British weather. Coach Si Davies named a strong side knowing the challenge ahead, with Wensleydale having racked up some big scores at home in the league, something Aire knew all too well from last season.
Captain Ollie Catherall kicked off on a rather undulating pitch, though in picturesque surroundings, and both teams looked to assert themselves from the off. The early exchanges were evenly matched, Wensleydale perhaps having a slight edge with their high tempo game. At about the 10-minute mark, Aire were penalised around their 22m line and the handy Wensleydale kicker slotted the penalty to make it 3 – 0.
The rest of the first half was a largely disjointed affair, not helped by some unorthodox refereeing which left players and supporters from both sides perplexed at times. However, Aire soon adapted and began to work their game plan better, helped by some monstrous carries from prop Simon Hill (awaiting sponsorship) and good defensive work from Chris Chapman (awaiting sponsorship) and Nick Jackson (sponsored by Furniture Clinic) winning turnover ball for Aire. The first half also saw the welcome return of James Greenwood in an Aireborough jersey after a lengthy injury spell. Sporting a forearm guard more commonly seen in rugby league unfortunately wasn’t enough to see Greeny over the line from close range at one point, instead being held up (see Brown Ale Moment).
After further Aire pressure saw them nearly score in the corner, Wensleydale were penalised in the midfield and Ollie Catherall (sponsored by Scoff) sent the ball between the sticks to make it 3 – 3 at the break.
Coach Si said in the half-time talk that Aire just needed to play to their own tempo, and back up their defensive shots to stop the Wensleydale players getting over the gainline.
Aire were immediately in control from the kick off and soon found themselves on the Wensleydale line. Good kicking from scrum half Stu Wilson (sponsored by GMex Construction) put pressure on the Wensleydale fullback who thought he’d stepped the onrushing Tom Pendriss (sponsored by Ilkley Dental Care) only to realise Tom had ripped the ball from his grasp. Though gathered by another Wensleydale player, a powerful counter-ruck from the Aire pack won a 5m scrum. Anyone familiar with the try scoring charts might know what happened next, as a big shove from the Aire scrum allowed Jonny Mackey (sponsored by Dave Greenwood) to pick and burrow over from the base. Ollie Catherall added the extras to make it 3 – 10 in Aire’s favour.
Wensleydale looked to reassert themselves and were helped by a dropped ball off the ensuing restart, but were kept at bay by the sturdy midfield defence of Liam Cree (sponsored by Phil Knowles) and Thomas Copsey (awaiting sponsorship), backed up by forwards Alan Justham (awaiting sponsorship) and Tom Pendriss. Then came Aire’s second score, as fullback Harley Stevenson-Cocks (awaiting sponsorship) sent up a hanging up-and-under that was left to bounce by the Wensleydale back three. Tony Clitheroe (awaiting sponsorship) dislodged the ball from the Wensleydale winger after a strong chase, and Thomas Copsey scored after collecting the loose ball and flopping over the line like a salmon. The conversion from out wide was missed but Aire were in control at 3 – 15.
Aire were looking to push on and close the game out, but a resurgent home side began to work their way into the game and eventually scored through the backs after spinning it out wide. The referee, 20m away, was content to award the score despite fullback Harley Stevenson-Cocks seemingly holding the ball up. Conversion successful, leaving the score at 10 – 15.
From the kick off, good work from the Aire pack led to a penalty that Nick Holdsworth (sponsored by Step Change) sent to the Wensleydale 22. Aire’s catch-and-drive was good, and Tom Pendriss broke away on a charge towards the line. With the home defence in disarray, Stu Wilson spotted a gap and accelerated through to dot down under the sticks. The conversion a formality for Ollie Catherall, Aire had a strong position at 10 – 22 with 15 minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for Aire, Wensleydale responded well and soon found themselves within a score after repeated phases from their pack sucked in the Aire defence, resulting in an overlap out wide. The score was good despite a valiant cover tackle from Tony Clitheroe. The conversion, again, was successful to put the score at 17 – 22 with Wensleydale smelling blood (metaphorically AND literally, with the gash on Martyn Booth’s brow disproving the commonly-held theory that his head was in fact made from stone).
With 10 minutes to play, Wensleydale again managed to control the tempo and retain possession well, and eventually found the decisive score. Poor guard defence around the ruck from Aire was exploited by a Wensleydale back, who picked up and sprinted away to the corner. Another cover tackle from Harley Stevenson-Cocks seemed to dislodge the ball prior to touchdown, but the try was awarded and salt was rubbed into the wounds as the home kicker again knocked through the conversion to give Wensleydale a slender 24 – 22 lead.
Indiscipline in the last few minutes put Aire on the back foot in their own 22, and Wensleydale won a penalty with just over a minute to play. Thankfully for Aire, the ball sailed wide but not dead and allowed them to counter. Despite manfully working their way to the halfway line, tired bodies and spirited home defence led to a lost ball which was gleefully belted off the park by celebratory Wensleydale players. Final score: Wensleydale 24 – 22 Aireborough.
In the post-match huddle, coach Si said that, although Aire should be disappointed not to come away with a win after losing control in the final quarter, they should be proud of a performance full of heart and effort and should leave with heads held high. Next week, Aire host Knottingley in a rearranged fixture looking to avenge a close defeat in the away fixture back in November.
Men of the Match: Simon Hill and Chris Chapman – Joint winners this week as big Sy Hill carried like an ox all game and Chappers was an ever-present nuisance in defence winning several turnovers.
Champagne Moment: Stu Wilson – A good game all round for Stu, sniping for a classic scrum half try. Champagne Moment mostly awarded as for once none of his box kicks went out on the full!
Brown Ale Moment: James Greenwood – Good to see Greeny back on the pitch in an Aire shirt, but a lengthy injury layoff doesn’t make up for being held up over the line from a couple of metres out.