Driffield’s loyal band of fans made the trip over to Bluehill Lane on a rainy and windy Saturday, hoping that the clouds might part in time for kick-off. Driffield were hoping to return to winning ways after the previous week’s abandoned game and the loss at Huddersfield YMCA before that. West Leeds were also hoping to bounce back after losing by one point to Pocklington the week before.
West Leeds, like Driffield, fielded a side that reflected their high injury count : they have used 47 players in their 1st XV this season, topped by Driffield who have used 52. The Driffield team was very similar to last week’s, although Tom Sowersby took the scrum-half slot, Rob Murray was a late replacement for Harry Jackson and there was a welcome return for Felix Nellen, home from the Caribbean for a few weeks.
Play kicked off in light drizzle on a compact pitch that, like many, was showing the effect of the recent rain. Early exchanges were even when, on 8 minutes, Driffield pressure in West Leeds’ 22 led to a loose pass that the opposition winger keenly picked-off. He raced almost the full length of the pitch, chased by Joe Robinson who managed to cut him off from scoring under the posts. The conversion was made however, making it West Leeds 7–0 Driffield
Play continued in gradually-improving conditions, and for a while it looked as if the sun might actually break though. On 16 minutes, following broken play in the middle of the pitch, Ben Dinsdale carried forward, well-supported by Alex Cullen who scored under the posts, converted by James Watts, making it West Leeds 7–7 Driffield
By now, Driffield had the balance of possession and territory but did not make the most of the chances they had. The weather conditions did not help, as it had become increasingly wet, and the skies were darkening. Play became scrappy so it was relief when, on 27 minutes, Rob Murray injected some pace to run diagonally through the West Leeds’ defence, passing five defenders who were unable to stop him scoring under the posts. Watts converted to make it West Leeds 7–14 Driffield
Just 5 minutes later, a loose kick out of defence by West Leeds was collected by Murray, who moved it inside to George Mewburn. He made one of his classic bullocking runs straight through the opposition defence to score under the sticks. Again, Watts converted to make it West Leeds 7–21 Driffield.
By now Driffield were clearly getting the upper hand, so it was against the run of play when, with five minutes to half-time, they found themselves defending an attack in their own 22. The clearance kick was well charged-down and followed up, and West Leeds’ player beat Driffield’s defence to claim the touch-down, ably converted. West Leeds 14–21 Driffield.
As half-time loomed Driffield were back in the opposition 22 when Leeds infringed, giving Watts a penalty shot in front of the sticks, which he took. Half-time West Leeds 14–24 Driffield.
During half-time, any hopes of lightening skies were abandoned when the weather started to close in and the floodlights became useful. Most of the supporters had now moved to the far side of the pitch to gain some shelter from the weather. This was not a day for open, running rugby and the first ten minutes of play, all in West Leeds’ half, produced no points. After briefly escaping their own half, West Leeds found themselves back on the defence on 53 minutes and conceded a kickable penalty, but the attempt was unsuccessful.
Play continued in a similar vein for another 10 minutes, with West Leeds defending well against the Driffield pressure until, on 63 minutes and following a period of scrappy play on the 22, Driffield rumbled forward and Rob Mewburn came out with the ball to tussle over for the bonus point try, converted by Watts. West Leeds 14–31 Driffield.
Play continued largely in West Leeds’ half when, on 70 minutes they broke out of defence and threatened to score. Having found their way out of their own half they camped in the Driffield 22 for five minutes, but were unable to convert the pressure into points and the ball was eventually lost and Driffield cleared with a kick to the West Leeds ten-metre line.
Driffield then went back onto the attack and, with four minutes remaining, a well-driven ruck threatened the try-line. A penalty was awarded wide out, and the scrum taken as the option. West Leeds collapsed under Driffield’s pressure and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, converted by Watts to make the final score West Leeds 14–38 Driffield.
On balance, this was a well-contested game between two sides that finished 2nd and 3rd in the league last season, played as well as it could be given the conditions. Driffield had the balance of play, and West Leeds’ two scores were well-taken Christmas gifts from Driffield. The better rugby was played in the first half. The second half was really about maintaining and extending the lead in worsening conditions. The five points gained lift Driffield to seventh in the league, on equal points with Percy Park and with a game in hand.