After an early morning inspection passed the pitch fit to play, third-placed Driffield travelled to second-placed Cleckheaton for a crucial game at the top of North One East. Despite dire predictions about the weather, the game was played in sunshine for the most part, with a gusting breeze down the pitch favouring the home side for the first half.
The game started evenly with both sides testing each other out. Driffield had parity in the scrum with the returning Pettinger setting a solid platform. The Woldmen’s defence in the initial stages was superb, led by Mewburn on his return, but with fellow back-row men Turner and Jenkinson also prominent. The home game had seen Cleck fly-half Breakwell prove the difference between the two sides and he opened the scoring with a penalty after 8 minutes.
Cleckheaton continued their fast start with the first try of the day. A long kick was shepherded over the Driffield line by Longville and Driffield kicked deep from the resulting 22 restart. Cleckheaton carried the ball back, recycled twice and then took advantage of slack Driffield defence down the blindside to break from half way and claim the first try of the afternoon, converted by Breakwell.
Breakwell added another penalty shortly after, leaving Driffield 13 points adrift before they got themselves on the scoreboard with an excellent try. A penalty kick to touch gave the visitors good field position and Mewburn carried powerfully into midfield. Dinsdale probed again before Cullen came around the corner and hit the ball at pace to crash over. Watts conversion into the wind fell short.
Driffield had found some momentum with Robson and Jenkinson carrying well and Dench becoming increasingly influential in midfield. Watts was finding good distance with penalties and Driffield were hammering at the home side’s line. A combination of good Cleckheaton defence and a lack of accuracy with the final pass kept Driffield to their solitary score. With half-time drawing close, Cleck grabbed control of the game with a converted try. From a scrum in midfield a missed tackle allowed the winger to streak 50 yards and score under the posts allowing an easy conversion. This was to prove crucial in the final outcome with Cleck turning what could have been a one point margin at half-time into a comfortable 20-5 lead.
With the wind at their backs Driffield began the second half using the wind well. Driffield had found some fluency across the back line with Dench moving the ball well and Longville looking dangerous with his arcing runs. After being inexplicably brought back for a penalty when advantage looked to be in Driffield’s favour, Watts kicked to touch and newly-arrived Brumfield found his man. Driffield spread the ball from side-to-side and the ball found Blacker, who darted out of a tackle and touched down for a converted try.
Driffield again had their chances to narrow the gap, but a lack of accuracy saw them coming up short. Cleck looked to have denied Driffield even a bonus point with a late penalty, but Driffield showed great spirit to keep playing until the end and deservedly claimed a point with a try from Kelly to leave the final score 23-17.
Driffield will be disappointed with the result but, in difficult conditions against a good side, should be proud of the performance. Mewburn led an outstanding back row effort and his return from injury will be a boost on the run-in. Cooper had a prominent game in the second row with his size and aggression causing problems and Cullen’s power and pace brought its rewards on the scoresheet.
A local derby with Scarborough awaits next weekend.