Aire survive Skipton test at Nunroyd
By Harley Stevenson-Cocks
Important bonus point win for Aire
Aire returned to winning ways this weekend, grinding out a tough bonus point win at home against a determined Skipton outfit. With the Crusaders hosting the same opposition, Skipton arrived by coach with a sizeable squad looking to repeat the return fixtures earlier in the season in which the home sides took the spoils.
Skipton kicked off and Aire immediately put themselves under pressure by not gathering the restart, giving Skipton a scrum at the Aire 22. The away side strung together several phases before Aire were penalised in midfield for offside, the resulting kick putting Skipton 0 – 3 up in the opening minutes.
Luckily for Aire, Skipton returned the favour at the restart to grant Aire their own scrum. Aire’s scrum was solid and after a number of phases, Skipton this time gave away a penalty which Aire nudged into the corner. Aire won clean ball at the lineout and backed themselves in the maul, driving the Skipton pack backwards to allow Nick Jackson to dot down. Nick Holdsworth added the touchline conversion for a 7 – 3 lead.
Aire, this time, gathered the resulting restart and exited their half well with the wind at their backs. With Skipton unable to breach the Aire defence, Aire won the ball back and worked their way upfield, helped by strong carries from the likes of the returning Luke Exley. Within 5m of the Skipton line, it was only a matter of time before Aire crossed for their second and of course it came in the form of Si “Big John” Hill who barged over in usual fashion (I’m running out of ways to describe Si’s ever increasing number of close range tries). Nick Holdsworth added the extras again to extend Aire’s lead to 14 – 3.
Things got better for Aire not long later with more possession in the Skipton 22. Despite Aire’s attacking structure beginning to break down, the ball was spread through the hands out wide and a sharp line from Lewis Myers saw him scythe through untouched, Nick Holdsworth again with the extras to put Aire 21 – 3 up.
At this point, Aire were in control, but did themselves no favours by not claiming the following restart, giving Skipton an attacking scrum from which their sizeable fly-half broke through weak Aire tackles to reduce the deficit to 21 – 10. Soon after, Aire were again architects of their own downfall. Sensing an opportunity out wide, Aire’s passing was inaccurate and a loose carry led to turnover ball for Skipton and a breakaway try against the run of play to put them in touch at 21 – 17 at half-time.
Coach Si Davies said at the interval that, though Aire’s attack was mostly good, their defence was the worst it’s been for a while and they had gifted Skipton soft scores to make the game far tighter than it should have been. They needed to stop going for chest-level glory shots and start chopping Skipton's big runners down low.
With the wind now favouring Skipton, they managed to clear their lines from the kick off but soon found themselves back under pressure. Stu Wilson collected the kick and did well to offload under pressure to the supporting Harley Stevenson-Cocks who found himself in space. Drawing Skipton's fullback, his pass would have found the support of Jonny Mackey but for an early tackle from Skipton. Aire had a penalty but perhaps could have had more, a penalty try perhaps optimistic but a yellow card surely deserved, yet not given.
Aire kicked to the corner and looked to maul their way over again, but were held out by Skipton. However, offside in midfield soon gave Nick Holdsworth an easy penalty to convert to extend Aire’s lead to 24 – 17.
Skipton, to their credit, came back firing and soon had territory and possession in their favour. With an extended period of pressure, helped by some Aire indiscipline, they eventually managed to crash over in the corner, but with the conversion missed Aire luckily still had a narrow lead at 24 – 22.
Aire knew they had to retain the ball and play to their structure in order to see the game out. Skipton, however, soon had pressure in the Aire half again but an important penalty was won by Christopher Chapman at the ruck for Aire to relieve some pressure. From the resulting lineout on halfway, Aire looked to use the backline and a well-timed pass from Lewis Barrett put Harley Stevenson-Cocks through a hole in the Skipton defence. Selling the fullback a dummy, Harley looked to be on course for a wonderful 50m try. On reflection, that was probably 3m too far for old Harley and with the sticky pitch not helping his already slow pace, he was dragged down and held up over the line by the Skipton covering defence.
Aire at least had an attacking scrum, which they solidly won (as they had all afternoon) and looked to attack from. After several close phases and with advantage coming, Aire again went wide and Lewis Barrett put in a neat little kick behind the Skipton backs which Lewis Myers pounced on for the bonus point try and to extend Aire’s lead to 29 – 22.
The last 20 minutes were tough for Aire supporters, as the game was largely played in Aire’s 22 and with the ball in Skipton’s possession. Phase after phase of Skipton attack came but was heroically defended by Aire, Lewis Eastwood and Jamie Sykes in particular putting in important tackles to repel Skipton players. Eventually Aire won the ball back and cleared to halfway with 2 minutes left to play. To the relief of the Aire supporters, they showed excellent compsure to close the game out with a number of tight phases before getting the ball off the park.
Full-time result: Aire 29 – 22 Skipton.
A far from vintage performance from Aire in stodgy and windy conditions, but a vital 5 point win. With losses for teams around them in the league, this sees Aire move up to 11th, but the pressure doesn’t let up as they next travel away to 6th-placed Leeds Corinthians on March 23rd after a weekend off.
MOTM – Lewis Myers was elected this week’s MOTM. Though he scored two tries and was sharp in attack, several important defensive interventions from Lewis were just as important for Aire to end up on the right side of the result.
DOTD – For the second week in a row, DOTD was awarded to fullback Harley Stevenson-Cocks, this time for being caught and held up by the “46 year old” Skipton number 8 with the tryline begging. Reports of the Skipton 8’s age are, to this author at least, greatly exaggerated.