Dalesmen make quick exit from Shield in freezing mudbath at Selby
The Yorkshire Shield has a habit of cropping up in the fixture calendar just when it is least welcome. Ilkley were drawn away at old friends and fierce rivals Selby against whom single point victories for the away side have been the order of the day. No one at Selby seems able to forget the match two years ago when the men in green squandered an 18 point lead to lose the league fixture by that solitary point as Brendan Kelley�s conversion scraped over the bar from a seemingly impossible angle. A single point defeat here seemed to those embittered supporters of the home side like poetic justice.
Both sides were substantially changed from last season, but the main difference today was the appalling weather. An overnight deluge had turned the usually perfect Selby pitch into a bog and incessant rain and sleet during the day had exacerbated conditions to such a state that sitting in the shelter of the grandstand was not for the feint hearted. Journalists� pens froze and made note-taking almost impossible. The warmth of the welcome from the Selby club and officials took some of the pain out of the prevailing conditions. President Arthur Adamson was as hospitable as ever whilst his more famous brother Ray, he of England international fame in the late 80�s, was leading Selby�s fifth team out.
This is a proper family club in the true sense of the word and one which mirrors all that the Ilkley club are trying to achieve in the Wharfe valley community. They too have an ambitious development project, they too are a Seal of Approval club, they too uphold the amateur ethos so envied by clubs higher the RFU system that have compromised their existence by paying unsustainable salaries to players. The recent talk of the Premiership reducing to 10 clubs and the demise of once great clubs only serves to confirm that the game of rugby union can only continue in good health if those in charge of clubs come down from their ego trips and get back to some form of reality. Long may clubs like Selby and Ilkley continue to prosper and grow and fulfil their roles as community based and community driven clubs.
The match itself was unremarkable for its lack of anything that was recognisable as running, passing rugby. The ball was like a bar of soap, making handling with frozen wet hands nearly impossible. There was clearly a desire in the Selby side to progress through to the next round. That desire appeared to be lacking in the Dalesmen, at least in the first half, although they spend the final ten minutes of the half camped in the home side�s territory.
They went 3 � 0 down to a penalty from Chris Quinn after 10 minutes and 8 - 0 down after Wright Phillips touched down a loose ball following a lineout close in. It was a ball that should and could have been tidied up had the Ilkley defence had their heads in proper defensive mode.
The reversal seemed to galvanise the Dalesmen and, whilst both sides did manage to manufacture scoring opportunities in the remaining twenty five minutes of the half, neither really looked capable of making the ball stick long enough in hand to get there. Indeed Dan Wright did force his way over for what looked to everyone watching like a good try. Even referee Mr John Clayton�s arm went up to signal the score only to be persuaded by the defenders that the ball was in fact held up. Ilkley had a five metre scrum and the chance evaporated. They also had a penalty awarded under the posts but inexplicably decided to take a quick tap and go. It too was well defended and a chance to put three points on the board had gone. As it turned out those three points made the difference in deciding the outcome of this untidy affair.
The second half was marked by a revival in the Dalesmens� fortunes.
First Simon Smith, the pick of the Ilkley backs, forced his way over in the corner to make it 8 � 5 and with the balance of power shifting in their direction it looked as though the wind and the superior forward play would enable the Dalesmen to claw their way back.
No such luck!
A clearance that slid off the side of a boot (they must have felt like lead weights in these conditions) gave Selby a lineout 35 metres out. A penalty, another lineout, another loose ball and another failure to defend it allowed skipper Rob Taylor to pick up and slip out of the despairing tacklers� grasps to score in the corner. 13 � 5.
Ilkley fought back and really picked up their game. Big Jon Hutchinson scored from a short penalty. Phil Howell slotted the conversion and it was game on again at 13 -12.
The final quarter of the game was lit up in the gathering gloom by a forward display of some ferocity with Reiner Botha and Wright at the forefront of the charge. Botha appeared to have scored as a cheer went up, but once again Mr Clayton was unsure. In those circumstances he had to award a five metre scrum. Selby strayed offside. Howell had a chance from a decent angle to give the Dalesmen the vital match clinching three points. His kick slid past the upright but, to his dismay, the wrong side and that effectively was that.
The Yorkshire Shield is on the back burner for another season. 1994 and that famous victory over Doncaster in this competition seems an eternity ago. It is interesting that Doncaster have gone on to become a force in National league one with genuine aspirations to become a Premiership club. They went about this rise through the league system with a sustainable business plan and proper financial structures. They have achieved this whilst retaining their status as a community club with a tremendous input into the local community and into the education system in Doncaster. It goes to prove that professional rugby can be sustainable and remain community based in the right conditions and under astute management.