Wharfedale Foresters 31, North Ribblesdale 17
Well over 500 souls turned out on Boxing Day for the annual Yuletide challenge match, which this year was in memory of Antony “Clopper” Capstick, tragically killed last year.
Clopper, who had earned his spurs at North Ribblesdale but went on to become a Wharfedale stalwart, would have appreciated the turnout, and the fact that the two clubs had given the occasion the respect it deserved by naming strong sides.
The weather did its best to spoil things, making the pitch as muddy as many could recall it – but at least the rain held off until late on.
And it was the visitors whose early tactics seemed best suited to the conditions: whereas Wharfedale wanted to pass the ball but repeatedly mishandled, Ribb’s playmaker Steve Moon resorted to his considerable boot to test the Greens’ receivers and keep the ball away from the danger area.
This tactic of playing in their opponents’ half paid off when the home side’s misdemeanours twice handed penalty chances to their visitors: a distance of 35 yards from the target presented no problem to teenage full back Robbie Davidson despite the heavy conditions, and by the 12th minute Ribb had a 6-0 lead.
From the restart, however, the Foresters implemented for the first time what was to be their best tactic, one which Ribb never got close to counter-acting – the rolling maul.
Size is said to matter but in this phase of the game it’s technique that counts, and from the first of many catch-and-drive moves, Chris Howick was credited with the try wide out on the left, to give the chance of a conversion to winger James Druce, who was to have a considerable influence on the game.
Druce succeeded with the kick, and then benefited from the concerted efforts of the pack when they took a heel against the head.
Fly half Will Bell made the room to put him in for a simple try, which he converted himself en route to a personal tally of 19 points.
But the home lead was soon reduced by another penalty from Davidson, this time from 40 yards, and shortly before half-time the visitors drew level with a try.
Moon kicked long and deep into undefended territory, the Greens were slow to attend in sufficient numbers and, from the ensuing ruck, winger Simon Bolland wriggled over the line for a half-time score of 14-14.
However, the yellow card shown to Bell could have made for a ner-vous start to the second half for the Foresters.
But at the break the home fans were lifted by the return from a long injury of scrum half Philip Woodhead, and of full back Adam Whaites, the former Ribb player getting back to full fitness after a difficult couple of years.
Both were to make telling contributions in their least favourite conditions but they were soon to see their side behind again, another Davidson penalty making it 17-14.
Enough was enough. The Foresters decided to play to their strength, and set up a series of long, driven mauls.
From a line-out, they drove over the goal-line in the 52nd minute, credit going to young hooker Dan Stockdale, whose overall performance must have given the watching Wharfedale selectors plenty of Christmas cheer.
By the hour, the Greens had done it again from an attacking line-out, Howick touching down for his second try, Druce landing the conversion this time to make the score 26-17.
By now the home side’s superior fitness was beginning to tell. Their forwards had established dominance in the tight and loose and, despite the state of the ball – it had begun to rain very hard – they were passing it (and even catching it) with confidence.
It was no surprise when Simon Crabtree found Druce in space, the winger chipping over the defence and winning the race to the ball six metres short of the line, and his momentum did the rest.
The final ten minutes were played out in torrential rain, the rhythm of both sides being disrupted by final replacements, and although the result was important only to the keepers of records, the teams left the pitch satisfied in the knowledge that they had done Clopper proud.
Wharfedale: Prell; Druce, Crabtree, Bell, Croft; Bullough H, Bullough J; Dickinson, Stockdale, Freeman, Mason, Burnett, Whyte, Howick, Wareing. Replacements: Rhodes, Baines, Altham, McRobert, Woodhead, Simpson, Gill, Whaites.
North Ribblesdale: Davidson R; Hayes, Richards, Davidson W, Bolland; Moon, Fox; Newhouse, Henare, Thwaite J, Thwaite W, Boatwright, Heap, Dakin, Stead. Replacements: Lynn, Padley, Mitchell.
Referee: Mr Andy Hinchcliffe.