Skipton's home record is shattered
An abysmal team performance saw Skipton sink to their first home defeat of the season. On paper the side looked strong and should have swept aside a dour Aireborough team that is languishing in the lower half of the league.
by Mick Smith
The visitors had little to offer outside their cumbersome but well-drilled pack.
The Reds’ forwards had the edge at the line-outs thanks in no small part to the excellent lift afforded to Jordan Wilson and his ability to take clean ball.
The scrums were more evenly matched with makeshift hooker Charlie Brown struggling to secure a quick strike.
This frequently put No 8 Sam Harrison under pressure and denied him or scrum-half Shaun Barra- clough any good ball. The backs, littered with talent, were, inexplicably, were incapable of stringing a pass let alone a move together all game, with the stand-off and centres failing to gel at all. The only saving grace being their combined defensive abilities.
The one-handed carries of centre partners Luke Stockton and Lee Shaw were exploited by the visitors’ defence who, adept at targeting the loose carry, dislodged the ball with regularity, and left little chance of fluent ball movement along the line.
As a consequence George Smith- son – on his welcome return after injury – and James Ackers on the wings were mere bystanders for much of the first half as the home side failed to make good use of any possession they had. Wrong options seemed the order of the day with any game plan that might have been penned in advance being cast firmly out of the window.
An all too familiar trait seen in several games earlier this season also began to emerge.
The Skipton team’s frustration with its own inabilities saw it begin to leak rucking penalties at an alarming rate.
These allowed the visitors to progress downfield toward the home line without much effort on their part. This self-inflicted pressure resulted in an easy try and conversion to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. The penalty warnings were clear but went unheeded by the Reds, conceding yet another ruck penalty in an eminently kickable position.
Aireborough’s kicker duly dispatched the ball between the two uprights.
Somehow kick-started into a reaction, Skipton began to put more telling pressure on the visitors, who were willing to concede penalties rather than territory, a practice they continued all game.
One suspects this could be a pre-ordained game plan to slow play down with “injury” breaks at almost every stoppage, thus giving their defence time to set while at the same time disrupting any flow Skipton might try to generate.
The conceding of penalties by Aireborough did allow Jeremy Hargreaves to reduce the arrears to four points at the half-time break with one long-range effort and a slightly easier second as the difficult crosswind began to strengthen late in the half. A further 40-metre effort fell agonisingly just under the bar shortly before the break.
Lee Shaw had to leave the field with a knee injury late in the first half and was replaced by James Tomlinson. He took over the wing berth as Smithson moved to centre. A tactical change at half-time saw Alex Baldwin replace Barraclough at scrum half, the latter re-taking the field late in the game for tiring flanker Jordan Wilson.
In the second half the visitors exploited their delaying tactics to the full, including a lengthy shoe tying exhibition by their prop, incurring the jeers of the home crowd but failing to draw any reaction from the referee, except to add time. By the end of the half these delays had extended the match fully ten minutes.
The staccato nature of the half did little for Skiptons’ cause, as they continued to struggle to develop any continuity in their play. The frustration prompted a number of wrong decisions. On numerous occasions penalty attempts at goal were ignored in favour of taps or kicks for line-out position.
Skipton must realise that the worst case scenario from any such attempt would be either a 22 restart, or a kick for touch, with the attacking side most likely to regain possession. Should the opposition choose to run from their own dead-ball area, a highly-risky strategy, the Reds would then be defending inside the opposition 22.
One such penalty kick for touch, taken into a howling gale, saw the ball fail to reach safety, the Aireborough stand-off graciously accepted this let-off and applied boot to ball for a wind assisted 60-metre clearance.
The visitors regained possession after a scrappy line-out and a mix up in the Reds’ defence, resulted in a missed tackle, and a soft try under the posts. With the conversion added Aireborough had an almost unassailable lead, as the weather deteriorated further, making it well-nigh impossible to play any meaningful rugby.
The home side, now driven purely by desperation, worked hard to try and salvage something from the game and were eventually rewarded when Ackers crossed the line wide out for what was to be a consolation try, earning a useful losing bonus point in the process. Hargreaves’ conversion attempt drifted wide in the now gale force wind.
Many painful lessons need to be learned, and quickly. The team undoubtedly has the talent and rugby ability to beat any side in this league but it needs to seriously address the need for game plans and the ability and doggedness to stick to them.
Points also need to be racked up from opposition penalties. Anything within 50m should be considered fair game for Skipton’s goal kicker.
The Reds’ own penalty count also needs a drastic reduction as, without doubt, there will be a quality goal-kicker out there lurking in an opponent’s shirt all too ready to punish. All players, but predominantly the ball-carrying playmakers, must also quickly perfect the art of the two handed carry and off-load, without which the attacking potential of the side will never be realised.