The play-off date had eventually arrived with the Woldsmen welcoming Wilmslow for their first ever meeting, with a place in North Premier League the prize. Wilmslow were an unknown quantity : suffice to say that they beat their own league champions Vale of Lune to reach this play off. Cooper’s men had not played for three weeks but this meant he would pick from strength, as players recovered from injury or returned from non-availability.
For the kick-off it was a warm day and the pitch was in its usual tip-top condition. For the match day squad, Dench returned to the starting XV. With four subs allowed for this match the bench was filled by Borman, Cullen, Robinson and Zavatti. So a great game was expected by the 700-plus crowd. In the warm-up, it was evident that Wilmslow would try and spread the ball wide at every opportunity and so this is what they contrived in the opening minutes. They have a big pack of forwards and Driffield hoped their fitness would prove decisive.
After 7 minutes, Watts made an incisive break down the middle and got the home crowd on its feet. The first scrum boded well for Driffield, as they shunted the Wilmslow 8 back, but the referee penalised Driffield for not pushing straight. Wilmslow moved the ball to their winger Donaldson and he showed electric pace and power to nearly beat the Driffield defence. They have a powerful pair of centres but Dench introduced himself to them with one of his trademark stops. After only 13 minutes Burns, struggling with an early knock had to be replaced by Borman. Within minutes Borman had a handful of his opponent’s shirt collar and gave him the ‘stare’ for what was a questionable tackle.
Wilmslow were in the ascendancy for the moment : they took a quick penalty, moved the ball right and then left, and from a ruck close to the Driffield line, they scored the opening try. This was duly converted by Pemberton. DRIFFIELD 0-7 WILMSLOW
Cooper knew his players were in a scrap. The Wilmslow scrum tightened up and returned their compliments with a good shove, knocking Driffield back. Dench and Stephenson put in some superb defence in the centres, stifling their opposite numbers. Under pressure in his 22, Watts put in a 60 metre returning kick and made a good touch. What was apparent was that, up to 30 minutes, Wilmslow had the majority of the ball.
Zavatti was rotated at prop for Blenkinsop. Driffield came back into the game on 38 minutes, Zavatti had a great drive, the pack joined in and James Dinsdale finished it off with a try from close range, converted by Dinsdale. DRIFFIELD 7–7 WILMSLOW
Wilmslow stormed back. Captain Mewburn had put in a massive text-book hit on their powerful centre to quell their ambition. Wilmslow went right through their winger. It looked like he had dotted the ball down for a try, but the linesman had spotted a foot in touch. Wilmslow came again, but this time George Mewburn put in a great hit on the 22. Driffield need to win more ball to keep in the game. Close to half-time, Dinsdale had a 35 metre penalty attempt go wide.
Half Time : DRIFFIELD 7–7 WILMSLOW
Early in the second half Wilmslow were on the attack and it was only some crafty defence from Gray that relieved the pressure. The ever-threatening Donaldson went down the right and it took a great stop from Ben Dinsdale to keep him under wraps. On 46 minutes a loose situation near the Wilmslow line turned the game again. From a ruck, Gray went for the line through a heap of bodies. The home crowd were claiming a try. The referee needed confirmation. There seemed an interminable wait while he consulted with his assistant referee. He awarded a try and the crowd erupted. Dinsdale converted. DRIFFIELD 14 – 7 WILMSLOW
Wilmslow lost their dangerous centre Taylor to a leg injury after the try. They fought back and after good pressure put together successive forward drives to the line and scored and converted for the equalising score. DRIFFIELD 14 – 14 WILMSLOW
A short while later George Mewburn was chasing a kick in the air. He tackled the Wilmslow player fielding the ball. Whether the player was still in the air or grounded was debatable. Home spectators stood in silence fearing that a card of some colour would be shown, but the referee once again went to his touch judge and decided a severe lecture sufficient. More importantly for everybody, nobody was injured.
Driffield seemed to be gaining control. Cullen had come on for Borman and was looking particularly sharp. Zavatti was carrying well and was playing possibly his best game of the season. Brumfield and Cooper were everywhere. Robinson had been introduced and was looking dangerous. On 66 minutes Driffield had put together a lot of phases and needed some reward. The ball was moved right across the 22 and given to Lawrence. He looked to all intents and purpose to be going over for a try in the corner, but only good defence kept him out. From a pile-up close to the Wilmslow line, James Dinsdale went for the line and appeared to be tip-tackled, but miraculously still grounded the ball. The referee called time out, again went to his linesman, and immediately awarded the try. Again converted by his brother. DRIFFIELD 21 – 14 WILMSLOW
Driffield supporters were ecstatic, but their celebrations were short-lived. Wilmslow hit back and with a sharp move through their backs put their centre over for a good try. With the conversion to level the scores, Pemberton’s kick hit the upright and bounced off. DRIFFIELD 21 – 19 WILMSLOW
It was so tense : could Driffield hold out and realise their ambitions? 40 minutes of the second half had come and gone. In what appeared to be the seventh minute of injury time, a Driffield kick went loose. Wilmslow snapped up the loose ball. It was fed to their centre Wortley who ran a good line and put Donaldson clear. Despite 3 Driffield tacklers his momentum took him over for the decisive try. The conversion was missed but it mattered not as the final whistle went.
Final Score DRIFFIELD 21– 24 WILMSLOW
So, immense disappointment for the Driffield squad on the day but so many positive aspects for them and the club. The game literally could have gone either way but the better performance came from Wilmslow. The Driffield team from 1 to 19 put everything on the line. Their coaches Cooper, Mitch and Macca could not have prepared their players better. A thought for the number of Driffield squad players on the injury list who had to sit this thriller out. A word for David Charlton our referee and his assistants who with their ability contributed to a great game of rugby.
So, no promotion for Driffield but an ever-more competitive North East One League beckons Cooper and his players next season.