Won't Get Fooled Again
West Park Leeds showed their ability to compete with the top of the division when running out clear winners over league champions Barnsley.
Looking a revitalised outfit from the one that disappointed the previous week, West Park weren’t fooling around this time, controlling much of the play. However, they dealt poorly with the kick off, immediately conceding a penalty. The visitors kicked to the 22, following up with a strong forward drive, which was well held, then turned over, Phil Davies confidently clearing his lines well.
The hosts went on the offensive, penning their opponents deep inside their own territory with a combination of intelligent kicking and a huge forward effort. A line out on the right saw the ball moved inside, strong running centre Ben Morgan taking a flat pass to jink past two defenders, twist, turn then power over to the right of the posts. Fly half Davies converted, the lead having being taken after just ten minutes.
The hosts continued to press, foregoing a kickable penalty chance inside the 22, choosing instead to go looking for the try. In total three relatively straightforward chances were passed up and although one can question the policy it certainly added to the entertainment on offer.
Other try scoring chances were carved out, fullback James Douthwaite breaking clear but lacking support. Winger Gareth Phillips crossed on the right but the final pass was forward. Powerful lock Josh Malkinson went close but his pass went to a man in a red shirt. Alistair Booth looked a certain scorer on the left but Barnsley fullback Andrew Appleyard pulled off a tremendous try saving tackle into touch.
The hosts could have been out of sight and it was very much against the run of play when a strong run from Barnsley No 8 Dave Reed sent centre Andrew Buckingham stepping through some flimsy tackling to cross on the left.
The visitors had one more tilt before halftime but Sam Hopton, who was to go on to claim the Yorkshire Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic man of the match award, came in with a textbook tackle from behind.
A two point interval lead was a poor reflection of a dominant first half but the lead was increased five minutes after the restart. Teenage flanker Hopton collected at the back of a ruck on halfway, spotting a gap in the away defence. Shooting away to the 22 at top speed he stepped the last defender with ease, streaking to the line for a sensational try, Davies tagging on a good conversion.
A penalty kick to the 22 saw the catch and drive held up over the line. The scrum was set, quick hands down the line putting wingman Booth into space on the left to go in for his 20th try of the season.
Great interpassing between replacement fullback Andrew Cromack and centre Stewart McLure almost produced the killer score. McLure was playing his last game before departing to continue his medical studies. He has been an outstanding performer over the last three seasons, rarely missing a match or training session and contributing hugely to the club.
The visitors are not league champions for nothing, producing their best rugby in the final quarter. Despite failing to cross the halfway line with the restart kick they eventually worked their way into the home 22, good handling sending hooker Simon Casson over in the right corner.
The contest was more even now, the forward battle intense with lock Nick Hartley proving his worth in both maul and lineout while hooker Graham Foxton put in a tireless display. Props Dan Stevens and Craig Hardy, ably backed up by replacement Phil Adams were immovable presences. Skipper and scrum half Jack Bickerdike never stopped urging and prompting while John Fletcher and Andrew Major formed a youthful but highly effective backrow alongside the outstanding Sam Hopton.
With time running out the indefatigable Reed sent Barnsley prop Tom Naisby, giving a passable impersonation of a flying wingman, over on the left. The conversion attempt, like the previous two, was off target, the visitors’ overall kicking game having been off all day.
Some home supporters were thinking about the spurned penalty chances as the clock ran down but the remainder of the match was seen out in relative comfort, aided by the visitors’ propensity to concede penalties.
For Barnsley, with nothing left to play for, a perhaps understandably disappointing end to a magnificent season that saw them crowned more than worthy league champions. We wish them well next season in Yorkshire One where they are bound to acquit themselves well.
For the hosts, a satisfying end to a largely successful season. Five draws and a couple of single point losses meant that promotion was always only an outside possibility but a 4th place finish is highly respectable for what is still a relatively youthful and developing squad. The platform is undoubtedly there to mount a serious challenge next season.