The season’s first encounter between the sides, in West Yorkshire, had produced an easy win for Ilkley. On that day, Driffield were never really in the game. But, it spurred them on to a nine-game winning streak that only ended last week with the disappointing loss at Morpeth. The point’s difference between the two teams in this fixture was so tight that the result could be instrumental in the promotion goal that both teams are chasing.
Once again, there were many changes to the side. As well as the usual forward player rotations, it was all change in the backs with only Soanes starting in the same position as the previous week. Robinson and Robin Watts were unavailable, so James Watts switched to nine, Ryan Murray moved up from full-back to his preferred position at 10, Rix switched to his preferred centre position allowing both Harrison and Scurry to return to the wings. This allowed Blacker to move to his preferred position at full back.
On a bright, sunny day with a stiff breeze down the pitch courtesy of Stork Malik, the conditions were always going to affect the game. Driffield started with the wind at their backs, and kicked off deep into Ilkley territory. Ilkley started to grind their way out of defence, and made it back to the half way line before losing possession.
Driffield turned to attack and a strong run through the middle by Forbes looked as if it might puncture the defence, but the cover came in and progress was halted. Driffield worked the phases and, yard by yard, made their way up to the five metre.
Driffield went for the line but the ball was lost in the attempt and Ilkley had the drop-out from their own try-line. The high cross-field kick was held up by the strong wind, and bounced kindly for Soanes who took it at speed, catching Ilkley off-guard and allowing an easy run-in on nine minutes. Watts compensated well for the wind and made the conversion. Driffield 7 – 0 Ilkley
From the kick-off, Ilkley worked it well along the backs, gradually sucking in the defence until they had an extra man on the left of the pitch. The winger had a straightforward run-in, but was unable to get nearer the sticks. Understandably, given the strong wind, the conversion was missed. Driffield 7 – 5 Ilkley
Driffield went back to attack, and reached the Ilkley five, but the defence was up to the job and possession was lost. Unable to kick their way out of defence, Ilkley opted for a series of pick-and-go moves, gradually moving forward and to the right. They then repeated this to the left, until the winger got the ball and broke three tackles before being halted on the 22.
Driffield stole the ball in the tackle, and reached the Ilkley 10, where skipper Mewburn made a strong run through the middle before he was stopped. Ilkley went offside at the ensuing ruck, and Watts kicked the ball to the left touch just five metres out.
A Driffield catch-and-drive was surely the plan, but they were unable to secure the line and the ball was lost. Ilkley once again ground their way upfield and, with an excellent run up the right wing, got to 10 metres out until the attack was halted.
It was now Driffield’s turn to work their way up the pitch, reaching the Ilkley 10-metre where the defenders gave away a penalty for offside. Watts’ penalty attempt went just wide.
With just five minutes left in the half, Ilkley snapped up a loose pass by Driffield in the midfield and a breakaway try looked possible. Fortunately, the Driffield cover defence was able to snuff it out and turned defence into attack.
Having just passed the halfway, the referee awarded Driffield a penalty for offside, and Watts teed up the attempt at goal. This time the ball kept low and, helped no doubt by the wind, just made it over the bar to give Driffield a five-point lead with just two minutes left in the half. Driffield 10 – 5 Ilkley
Ilkley restarted, and made a long kick to the left corner, into the wind. Driffield caught the ball, but a foot went into touch and Ilkley had the lineout five metres out. The catch-and-drive was halted, the ball sent right and popped to the full-back bursting through, finding the smallest of gaps to go in for the try. The conversion hit the inside of the post and dropped, just crossing the bar to give Ilkley a two-point lead at the half-way point. Driffield 10 – 12 Ilkley
Because of the conditions, strategies were now reversed, with Ilkley being able to use the wind to their advantage and Driffield having to grind their way out of defence.
With just three minutes gone, Ilkley had reached the 22 working the ball along the threes to the left, and then the right, before being halted five metres out when Driffield were penalised for offside. Ilkley sensed blood and went for the scrum option and eight-man shove.
Driffield again halted them two metres out, but the ball was popped up and taken well. Ilkley dived for the line and, with outstretched arm, just reached the whitewash for the try. The kick was made, extending Ilkley’s lead six minutes into the half. Driffield 10 – 19 Ilkley
Driffield secured the ball from the kick-off and returned to the attack, probing at the strong defence looking for any weakness. Eventually, Johnson found such a gap and made 30 metres headway before being stopped, and the ball lost.
On 15 minutes, Driffield were again in possession and the referee awarded them a penalty in midfield. Watts went for the corner, into the wind and hit his mark five metres out. Ilkley halted the attempted catch-and-drive, and the ball sent right down the threes where Driffield battered at the Ilkley wall repeatedly.
Finally, Sowersby scooped up a loose ball and went over for the try. Watts made the difficult conversion into the wind, and Driffield were back in the hunt at two points behind. Driffield 17 – 19 Ilkley
Ilkley returned to attack and used their backs to left and right before a gap opened up in the centre and they went in under the sticks. To everyone’s surprise, the easy conversion from 12 metres out was missed. Driffield 17 – 24 Ilkley
One sensed that Ilkley now had their tails up and Driffield were chasing the game. Perhaps they may only be able to get a losing bonus unless flashes of brilliance were able to create scoring chances ? Ilkley seized the initiative and worked their way up the park, finally camping on the line where excellent Driffield defence thwarted a series of attempts to cross.
Finally, Ilkley found a gap out to the right, giving them an easy run-in. The conversion attempt from wide out bobbled about in the strong wind and straightened at the last moment to go over with fifteen minutes left to play. Driffield 17 – 31 Ilkley
Undeterred, Driffield went back into attack, clawing their way up the pitch until Ilkley halted them just inches from the line. Repeated attacks by the forwards, including an excellent crash-ball take by Pettinger, were well defended against.
However, eventually the pressure told. The referee took a long hard look at the pile-up, and Mewburn emerged from the bottom of the heap as the try-scorer, converted by Watts with seven left on the clock. Driffield 24 – 31 Ilkley
Perhaps something could be taken from the game ? A fourth try would give a guaranteed bonus point and, perhaps, a win ?
From the restart, Ilkley set about restoring the gap, and reclaimed the ball from the kick-off. Quick passing along the backs followed a strong run by their eight to the left. Catching the Driffield defence up flat, the winger hacked through and recovered the ball, going through for the try, too far out to convert. Driffield 24 – 36 Ilkley
With less than a minute on the clock, and hoping to get two points out of the game for the losing bonus and four tries, Driffield launched one more assault. They reached the 22 before being called back for a knock-on. Ilkley secured the ball from the scrum, and the stand-off put the ball into touch to end the game and dash Driffield’s hopes.
Summing up, this was a great game of rugby played in less than perfect conditions, which Ilkley made better use of. Both sides did what they could and both attack and defence were flat out. Driffield will rue giving away the scoring chances they did, while Ilkley will be pleased that they took them gladly.
The loss sees Ilkley go equal top with Heath, but have a game still in hand, and Driffield drop to third. The Driffield 1st XV travel to Durham City next Saturday for their rearranged fixture.