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Deja vu as Wharfedale are indebted to Tom Barrett drop goal
Blackheath 20, Wharfedale 23
Winning sides win, losing sides lose.
This adage was proved once more in London SE3, where Wharfedale dug deep to frustrate a side which had just slipped into the SSE National League One relegation zone.
This may not have been the match which had been advertised, but at least the away win was what most commentators had been expecting.
The method of arriving at the result, however, required a Wharfedale performance of great character in the face of a home side showing much more determination than in their previous week’s disappointment at St Albans.
It was always going to be one of those days: Joe Donkin had failed his fitness test, Matt Dudman had been recalled by Leeds Carnegie and Will Bell was required at Katie’s bedside while she presented him with a baby girl.
Philip Woodhead returned to his favourite scrum-half position, Nick Taylor moved to full back, and wing-forward Jack Barnard played in the centre; Lloyd Davies, already in London, joined the party.
It was Wharfedale, however, despite this disruption, who were trying to play adventurous rugby against a side which seemed to believe that the conservative approach would be the one to dig them out of their current difficulties.
Blackheath had certainly repaired their set-piece and, although the Wharfedale forwards will claim to have won the battle of the scrums, their superiority was never more than marginal – perhaps reflected in Woodhead’s two infractions for feeding, one of which resulted in the concession of a good home try from No 8 James Catt.
When consistent Blackheath pressure resulted in a penalty goal to tie the scores at 20-20 with ten minutes to go, many in the noisy and festive Wharfedale support will have feared that the capital-city curse would strike again, but they reckoned without Tom Barrett.
Straight from the restart, the Green forwards took control of the ball and set up field position for the fly half to repeat his feat of the previous week - a drop goal to win the match.
Not that this was the end of the proceedings: there was still time for the home side to come back, but Wharfedale played with great common sense and discipline to keep the ball in the home 22, and indeed came very close to closing out the game with a fourth try.
The match had been played in difficult conditions, the strong crosswind and poor floodlights causing frequent handling errors by both sides.
It was going to take something exceptional to lift the game, and the stage was set for Barrett to show his considerable class.
After 16 minutes, during which Wharfedale had had the majority of possession and territory, he made a break from 30 yards out and, although tackled just short of the line, managed to place the ball for the try.
A Barrett penalty gave the visitors a ten-point lead, but an ill-advised kick from deep defence gave the grateful home forwards possession which they turned into a good try for Jesse Liston.
Again Wharfedale advanced into home territory, and again it was Barrett’s brilliance which stretched the lead: spotting a gap in the defence, he chipped ahead, raced through to gather the ball on the full and score under the posts to make his own conversion a formality.
But once again home pressure resulted in a try, this time for hooker Gavin O’Meara, and a half-time lead of only 15-10, having had the benefit of the slope, told the visitors that their work was far from over.
The second half was only seven minutes old when massive pressure on the home line resulted in a trademark catch and drive finished by Dan Stockdale, and at 20-10 there was daylight between the teams, before the home side’s character got them back to parity, albeit briefly.
Wharfedale: Nick Taylor; Scott Jordan, Jack Barnard, Tom Davidson, Josh Prell; Tom Barrett, Philip Woodhead; Chris Steel (captain), Dan Stockdale, Jake Armstrong, Richard Brown, Richard Rhodes, Dan Solomi, Aaron Myers, Rob Baldwin. Replacements: Adam Howard, Ian Larkin Josh Burridge, Will Davidson, Lloyd Davies.
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