Aireborough Crusaders vs Halifax Dukes 19-14
By James Underwood
Crusading to Victory at the Battle of Littlemoor
The Dukes of Halifax prove tough opponents for the rampant Crusaders.[\b]
Another 2019 Saturday afternoon and once again the Crusaders found themselves putting on their armour and getting ready to take to the battlegrounds, which this week would be down the road at Littlemoor school with Fort Nunroyd being defended by the 1st XV against Sheffield Medics. Some confusion about saturday’s opponents earlier in the week, caused primarily by an error on the England Rugby website, sparked many a social media discussion and even spawned the hashtag #lockersgate but the result was that the visitors would be Halifax Dukes. 3 wins from 3 in 2019 and another large squad of talented players, bred confidence among the ranks that would hopefully continue the excellent performances of the calendar year so far. The biggest confidence boost was the return from injury of Matt ‘Ozzy’ Osborn who would be starting the long road back to regular playing time from the bench. Last weeks man of the match Harry Beckwith returned to his usual colts position of Flanker with Rob Baker coming in at outside centre.
Aire kicked off with the wind at their backs and the early exchanges saw both sets of forwards and full backs being tested. The Dukes’ full back showed off his quick feet on the kick returns, until he ran into a brick wall of Aireborough defenders and quickly switched to kicking the ball back. As for the forwards, the going was a little tougher as two sets of big lads fought for every ruck, scrum and line out.
With no clear advantage among the forwards, Aire looked to the backs line to break the spirited Halifax defence. Early attempts at moving the ball wide had showed spaces opening up on the wings if the ball was moved quick enough and after a couple of failed attempts, the Crusaders started to make regular yards downfield out wide. Both Danny Cleary and Stefan Newport on the wings for Aire had chances to run in open space but were foiled by covering defence while Iain Craven (still awaiting his sponsorship from Oak Furnitureland) caused mayhem for the Dukes defence with his inside runs. Pressure mounted on the Dukes as Aire kept them contained to their own 22 meter line. Eventually the cracks appeared and some quick hands through the back line saw Rob Baker dive over in the corner… only to be pulled back for a dubious forward pass decision.
Keeping a lid on frustrations was becoming a problem for Aire as more chances went begging, but it was only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken and the try came through some strong running by substitute Granville Sellars, breaking down the short side off a rolling maul, crashing over the attempted tackle and offloading inside to captain James Underwood. The scrum half collecting the balling and bouncing off the covering defender to touchdown in the corner. The referee signalled for the try before the Touch judge on the Halifax Dukes side put his flag up and said that Granville had been in touch before the offload. The referee, to his credit, didn’t waver and stated that the try had already been given and by his judgement the ball had been released before the touchline. Matty Jones kicked the conversion from out wide and Aire finally had the breakthrough.
It didn’t take long for the score to change as the Crusaders again forced Dukes into their own half before a sly dummy and step from fly half jacob waugh broke through the defensive line before passing inside to Iain Craven who once again found himself 22 meters from the line with no one in front of him. With 1 scored and 1 failed attempt from this distance in recent games the bookies were struggling to call which way this would go. Belief instilled from last weeks success drove Iain toward the line before doubt (and those wooden hamstrings) kicked in 10 meters from the line. He looked around for support but the encouraging words of No. 8 Jonny Hanson “keep running you ****!” (or words to that effect) spurred Iain to put the ball down under the posts. Amazingly the conversion from slap bang in front of the posts was converted by Matty Jones and Aire had quickly moved into a 14 - 0 lead that they would keep until half time.
[b]HT Aireborough Crusaders 14 - 0 Halifax Dukes
The stage was set in the second half for Matt Osborne to kick Aire into the next gear and help put the game to bed. Unfortunately that plan went out of the window in the first few minutes as handling errors and missed tackles allowed the strong running Dukes centre to crash over near the posts.
A quick regroup was needed to stop Halifax getting any momentum and that’s what AIre did as all 15 players on the pitch stood firm against there opposite number. After a tough 10 minutes at the beginning of the half, Aire finally regained their foothold in the game with the forwards gaining some control in the set pieces and rucks and the backs once again finding spaces to attack. Quick line speed from the visitors made getting the ball wide difficult but spaces were found on the inside and both jacob waugh and Matt Osborne made breaks with their quick feet and agility. As with previous weeks, the end product was lacking and a mild case of white line fever swept across the team as they pushed to regain their 2 score advantage.
The next score would be a testament to the tactics used by Aire throughout the game as quick hands through the backs found winger Stefen Newport running at pace. The Dukes defence would be powerless to stop the ‘Lomu’ esque run and he would touch down in the corner. An unsuccessful conversion left the Crusaders 12 points ahead with 20 minutes to go, those of a nervous disposition may want to skip to the end now.
Aire spent the next 10 minutes trying to start their own downfall as ill discipline gave Halifax possession and back chat to the referee (who had warned Aire before the match about talking back and using foul language) marched them downfield. It would take some solid defensive work and tireless communication to keep Halifax at bay and for the most part this is what Aireborough produced but eventually Dukes would find a overlap on the nearside and the full back would touch down in the corner. A successful conversion reduced Aire’s lead to 5 points.
By now nails were shortening at lightning speeds and Team Manager Ian Cloughton was stressing the importance of keeping the focus for the remaining minutes (words he would forget to apply to himself before the end of the game). A good kick off at the restart gave Aire a chance to hold Halifax in their own half and eventually have possession in a dangerous position but once again were unable to convert pressure into points. The game moved into the midfield with both sets of tired bodies giving everything to try and gain possession but a final blow of the referee’s whistle would bring relief to the Aireborough squad as they continued their unbeaten start to 2019.
FT Aireborough Crusaders 19 - 14 Halifax Dukes
They say winning is a habit. If that’s true then Aireborough have not only got the habit but are turning it into an addiction in 2019. With both Senior teams putting Ws on the board again this week. Going into an important week with both sides playing rearranged fixtures from earlier in the season at home next weekend and the inaugural AIreborough RUFC Beer Festival also taking place at Nunroyd Park, the atmosphere around the club is buzzing and all are invited to take part at a re-energised club looking to continue the winning habit.
Man of the Match - this week’s MOM was another emerging talent rising from the Colts. After a great debut performance last week, that was only eclipsed by fellow Colt Harry Beckwith, jacob waugh backed up that performance with another classy display at fly half. He orchestrated the attacks well, identifying opposition weaknesses and having the skill to exploit them. Unfortunately neither himself or his brother were able to accept his award after the match and so honorary MOM went to International Man of Mystery Richard Holmes.