Aire resurgence halted at Castleford
By Harley Stevenson-Cocks
Chance of hat-trick of victories for Aire gone with the wind
Aire were unable to make it 3 wins on the trot after coming unstuck in blustery conditions at Castleford this weekend. Preparation for the game was not ideal with Nick Holdsworth having to withdraw from the squad, and with his like-for-like replacement Luke Exley also unable to travel, the Aire team was shuffled with back-rower Mikey Dolan moving to his preferred position of outside centre and Harry Beckwith getting a full debut instead of starting on the bench.
With a strong breeze prominent in the warm up, Aire elected to play with the wind in the first-half and hoped to use the advantage early on. Unfortunately, it was Cas with the brighter start as they used their sizeable ball carriers to good effect, not helped by some rather upright tackling from Aire. Despite heading into the wind, a cross-field kick from Cas bounced favourably into their winger’s hands to put Aire on the back foot and with disorganised defence. A few phases later and Cas had the first score of the game under the sticks for a 7 – 0 lead.
Aire were then the benefactors of the breeze as some strong kicking pegged Cas into their own half unable to exit. Aire’s pack began to apply some pressure with some strong carries, and eventually a penalty was forced in a more than kickable position for Ollie Catherall to reduce the deficit to 7 – 3.
Not long after, Aire were back in the Cas half with the pack providing a solid platform at the set piece. From a lineout in the Cas 22, Aire’s pack advanced towards the line but were unable to breach it. However, the ball was fed out to fly-half Ollie Catherall who found Mikey Dolan on a lovely heads ball to crash over for Aire’s first try, Ollie adding the extras for a score of 7 – 10 in Aire’s favour.
Not long after the restart, a sizeable Cas clearance (given the wind) from their handy kicker found the hands of Stuart Wilson, who quickly found the support of fullback Harley Stevenson-Cocks. Rolling back the years, Harley glided through disorganised Cas chasers towards the line. However, those years then quickly caught up with him and he was unable to make it all the way. Luckily for Aire, Simon Hill was on hand for the next phase to force his way over to extend Aire’s lead to 7 – 15 (and extend his own lead in the try scoring charts this season).
Cas, to their credit, rallied well and found themselves with some possession and territory in Aire’s half, and Aire’s defence strayed offside for a penalty which made the score 10 – 15. A bit of indiscipline allowed Cas to work their way back into Aire’s half not long after, and from a strong lineout drive they managed to squeeze over to make it 17 – 15.
From the restart, Cas again managed to advance upfield and found themselves clocking up plenty of phases in Aire’s 22. Aire’s tight defence was up to the task, but the pressure eventually told as Cas threw the ball out wide for a score which was well converted to make it 24 – 15.
Aire were aggrieved later not to have a third score when some good play saw them pave their way into the Cas half. Aire looked to be in through debutant Harry Beckwith only for a seemingly high tackle to put a stop to Aire’s attack. The ref, however, seemed happy to play on and Cas cleared their lines to end the first half.
The half-time talk for Aire focused on improving their defence, particularly chopping down some of the sizeable Cas forwards earlier and looking to implement their game plan.
Much of the third 20 went scoreless, with both teams unable to get into each other’s 22. Aire did manage to exert some of their new structure practised this week in the game, which looked good and made decent headway. This seemed to frustrate Cas, with the average tackle height increasing and some unsavoury words catching the referee’s attention. However, it was Cas who scored next after turnover ball was won and a chip over the Aire defence bounced, again, favourably to see them score under the sticks to extend the lead to 31 – 15.
With the wind in their faces, Aire elected to keep hold of the ball more and did well to advance into the Cas half in the final 20 minutes. The penalty count began to creep up against Cas and it was perhaps surprising not see any cards result. With pressure building in the Cas 22, Aire thought they had scored out wide through Lewis Myers only for the referee to adjudge the ball to have been grounded short. From the resulting scrum, however, the Aire pack got the squeeze on and number 8 Jonny Mackey did his usual to crash over from the base to bring the score to 31 – 20.
With 3 tries so far, Aire were seeking at least one bonus point and unfortunately probably got a bit too excited in attack and lost some structure, not helped by a few injuries resulting in a reshuffled backline. Aire were unable to get out of their own half and eventually Cas found themselves with the ball on the Aire 22, and a deft cross-field kick found their winger out wide to score and make it 36 – 20, ultimately the final score.
Aire felt the scoreline flattered Cas somewhat, who were fortunate with the bounce of the ball at times, however ultimately it was their own inability to play to their structure and exert themselves with their usual vigour in defence that allowed Cas to get themselves into scoring positions. However, a bit more precision in attack and tightening up in defence and Aire should find themselves on the right side of results like these.
MOTM – Aire’s set piece was solid all game so credit must go to the usual pack stalwarts for their scrum and lineout performances. For his contribution to these and tireless work around the park (as always), Alan Justham was Aire's Man of the Match this weekend.
Next up for Aire is Leeds Modernians at Nunroyd Park, a team occupying Aire's former position at the foot of the table. KO at 2:15pm in what should be a good game if the previous high-scoring fixture (46 - 37 in Mods' favour) is anything to go by.