West Park Leeds overcame the challenge of a strong and committed Doncaster Phoenix outfit to secure five invaluable league points in their quest for league survival.
The opening stages were lively as both sets of defences were put to the test. Jason Whitehead looked threatening at centre, as did Oli Trace at fly half. It was the latter’s grubber kick to the 22 that established good field position on the quarter hour. A scrum followed, skipper Jack Bickerdike finding Stewart McLure who stood his man up before stepping him on the outside to zoom in beneath the posts, Trace converting.
Lock Danny Warden produced some great lineout steals while along side him 18 year old Andy Major provided a sturdy and combative presence. Outstanding Number 8 Ben Griffiths simply ruled the lineouts, although rumours of him using Superglue to make the ball stick to his hands are so far completely unsubstantiated.
The visitors had come to make a game of it and a good bout of handling saw their tricky outside centre held up on the line but managing to unload to send his centre partner diving over. The successful conversion levelled the scores but a penalty attempt from the same spot soon after drifted wide.
A break by centre McLure was carried on to the away line by winger Luke Gamble. The forwards offered close support and when the ball emerged Bickerdike’s long pass encouraged half back partner Trace to go dancing over by the posts before tagging on the conversion to restore his side’s advantage.
Phoenix cut the deficit early in the second half with a penalty from 25 metres. Soon after their feisty Number 7 was sent to cool his heels for ten minutes following a dust up on halfway. West Park brought on forward reinforcements in the shape of the experienced Richard Storey and Paul Minns, quickly followed by enthusiastic flanker Ian Stewart and the home pack was now clearly in the ascendancy.
The point was demonstrated on the hour when a Griffiths lineout steal saw winger Ali Booth set off on a searing break to the away 22. A scrum penalty followed, nudged to the corner by Trace where the pack executed the perfect catch and drive, flanker Glen Kilvington claiming the touchdown.
From the restart, Whitehead cleared back to the away half. Bickedike broke blind from the resulting scrum but his inside ball was knocked on. However, when fullback Ben Morgan, producing a sound performance in an unfamiliar position, entered the line he was held on the 22. The away forwards piled over conceding the penalty, then making matters worse by kicking the ball away to give Trace a straightforward chance to stretch the home lead to 12 points.
Phoenix weren’t done yet but when they broke down the right scrum half Bickerdike came steaming across to pull off one of the tackles of the season on the Phoenix right wing. The visitors maintained field position and from a scrum inside the 22 worked a slick move in the backs to score a converted try under the posts.
It was do or die for West Park and Bickerdike combined well with flanker John Fletcher to break away but was collared just short. The pressure was relentless and when the home forwards got the nudge on at a reset 5-metre scrum a pushover try looked likely. Instead, the ball was moved to Trace whose neat inside ball sent the powerful McLure crashing over by the side of the posts to score the bonus point try, sending the home support wild. Trace’s conversion completed a satisfying personal 14-point haul for the young fly half and an outstanding effort by the team as a whole.
After an immensely disappointing mid-season the squad seems to have finally found the self-belief to match its undoubted ability just at the right time.
Easter Saturday sees the visit of high flying league champions Pocklington, which must however be viewed as an opportunity to aim to pick up vital league points. After that, West Park face successive games against the bottom two, Old Rishworthians away and Roundhegians at home, to secure their league status.