This weekend saw the Aireborough Crusaders play their second game of the season, away to local rivals Baildon. It was a short trip to Jenny Lane for most, thought not for Captain James Underwood who was up at the crack of dawn (well, at least before 7…) to drive down from the Cairngorms for the derby arriving just 25 minutes before kick-off.
Those who weren’t driving from Scotland had a more pleasant start to the afternoon, with the presentation of the beautiful new 50th Anniversary Season shirt at Nunroyd Park, before being led in the warm-up by the capable hands of Underwood’s deputies, with fly half David Krushell organising the backs, and Eddie Brewer looking after the big boys.
After nerves in the week about reaching 15, Aire managed to start the game with a squad of 18, including 5 debutants. The pack was tough and grizzled, though lacking in obvious lineout jumpers. It contained hardened veterans like Tony Exley and Si Wilson, returning clubmen like Andrew Wood and Paddy Smith, and new arrivals Jed Gowland and Gio Guarino in the front row, and big Jake Fielden covering flanker. The backline contained Crusaders stalwarts such as two try hero from Vandals Krushell marshalling at 10, the Welsh Wizard Rob Baker at full back, and a new centre combo of Richard Cousins and Chris Broadbent playing their first game for the club.
The Crusaders also had a familiar face in the referee this week, with the same official from Vandals a fortnight ago, and one we are pleased to have developed a respectful relationship over recent seasons. The referee took a moment before the game to reiterate his strict style, which had also been reinforced by comms that had come down from Twickenham about respect for matchday officials. After the briefing Underwood lost the toss, meaning the visitors would be playing up the hill and against the wind in the first half. Unfortunately, the makeshift nature of this week’s Crusaders line-up saw two early tries conceded in quick succession within the first quarter, but with both kicks missed, taking the gap to just 10 points.
Around 20 minutes in Aire started to find some continuity, and this led to an improvement on the pitch. Aire’s defence generally holding well in the tighter areas but losing ground in the wider channels against a pacey Baildon backline. Aire showed endeavour with ball in hand, with hooker Gio Guarino looking dynamic in the loose, and Krushell probing with support from his backline. However, Baildon would enjoy the benefit of a marginal call on a flat pass that saw them round the outside of Aire to add their third.
Despite shipping another try, the visitors continued to grow into the game. Good carries from the likes of Somewhere Different’s Martyn Booth, making a welcome return to the Crusaders, and newcomer Jake Fielden running into the familiar face of Baildon’s Will Tomlinson for a big collision. With better momentum building, and quicker ball achieved, Aire started to make progress down the left before spreading it wide through the hands of Krushell and Broadbent to outside centre Richard Cousins who did well to power through soft shoulders to go over for a try on his debut. Krushell added the extras to take it back to a 10 point deficit. This better passage of play continued to the end of the half, but disappointing couldn’t bear fruit- with several good field positions lost at the lineout making it hard to gain a foothold. Despite a good drilling from pack leader Eddie Brewer prior to kick-off, the long arm of the law in Jay Clay at openside flanker had a challenge as the only jumping option against an organised (and tall) home side.
With only 10 points the deficit and the advantage of both the wind and the slope, Aire felt like that they had an opportunity to come back into this game. However, the second period started much like the first, with Aireborough sloppy and slow to react in the opening stages. They found themselves under the sticks twice in quick succession, and this time the Baildon kicker had found his groove, converting both to take the home side out to 31-7 in front. This switch off probably saw the game move out of reach, but again they started to respond with an improved performance.
The second half saw several elements of the first repeated, Aire showing moments of promise only to lack precision in the end product. Not lacking for spirit, with a solid scrum and resolute defence in close quarters, but struggling with the lineout and with injuries and tired bodies meaning the bench was like a revolving door. This fatigue against a fit and well-organised opposition saw them score two further converted tries, though with the run rate significantly reduced.
The Crusaders were given a glimpse of hope with 10 minutes to go, with the home side reduced to 14 men. Warnings had followed the initial briefing about zero tolerance for back chat to the referee but the Baildon player who saw red might feel harshly done by, with his comments to the official motivated by a possible injuries to players, and opposition players at that. Still in the dying moments of the game Aire couldn’t make the numerical advantage count and Baildon retained the ball well. A chasing Chris Broadbent did well to catch-up with the pacey Baildon full-back as they looked to add to their total, but not quite close enough as he reached out with a tired arm and caught him high. With the recent red occupying both teams’ minds, he managed to avoid sanction beyond a penalty leaving Aire breathing a sigh of relief, and plenty on both sides raising a quizzical eyebrow.
Despite a scoreline that reflected the home side’s quality, this week’s Crusader side left the pitch with their heads held high. In a match where the visitors sometimes lacked in quality of execution, they did not lack for heart- with big efforts from the whole squad, and bodies placed on the line. So much so, that we saw two new caps making trips to the hospital following the game (apologies to Jake and Jed, its not usually this dangerous unless your name is Iain Craven).
Even in defeat, this writer, can take plenty of positives from the game- from the performances of new additions, the re-emergence of veteran clubmen and the general endeavour shown across the squad in a new look side.
Aireborough Crusaders are due to take on West Park 3rd XV this coming weekend. As always, new and returning faces always guaranteed a warm welcome.
MoM- Tony Exley
It seems only fitting that on the official launch of the kit to mark the 50th Anniversary of the club that the Crusaders Man of the Match goes to Tony Exley, a massive character and player for Aireborough throughout the years. In my time at the club I’ve always been impressed by Tony, his toughness and his guile on the pitch, and his attitude both on and off it- all of which we saw on Saturday. He even got a giggle from the referee in his briefing, which based on later events was lucky to see him not carded before the starting whistle was blown.