SKIPTON STORM TO CUP GLORY
Yorkshire Silver Trophy
Skipton 18 Knottingley 6
"ONE trophy won - and one still to play for - the job's half done" was joint coach Andy Guest's reaction to this nail biting victory at Ovenden Park, Halifax on Sunday.
The Silver Trophy, first presented to Skipton in 1912 to mark their achievement for winning the Yorkshire Cup three times, is now back at the club's Sandylands clubhouse. It stayed there until 1948, when Skipton gave it back to the county to be presented to the runners-up in the county final. Ironically the first winners were Skipton, beaten in the 1949 Yorkshire Cup final.
After years in the doldrums, Skipton have had their most successful season for many years and should wrap up the Yorkshire Division Three League in two weeks to complete a splendid double. The spring-like conditions turned sour for Sunday's cup final and it was Knottingley who kicked off with the advantage of wind and slope in the first half. Their juggernaut pack moved straight onto the offensive. It was obvious that the Skipton eight would need to quell this leviathan to have any chance of gaining honours, and all afternoon the harder they ran at Skipton, the harder they fell. The greasy ground conditions and driving rain also favoured Knottingley negating any advantage Skipton may have had with their speedy backs. The first 10 minutes saw the two teams probe and push, both looking for any signs of weakness, but none appeared. A hasty clearance from full back George Smithson rebounded from a Knottingley player but fortunately the ball fell over the line and was touched down for a 22 drop out. Stand off Darren Howson was always alert to the inside break, and from one such move burst deep into Knottingley territory, but the pass was nudged forward allowing the ball to be cleared.
The Skipton pack were struggling to gain clean possession with their opponents proving very adept at spoiling around the fringes. Only a big tackle from outside centre Wayne Berrey prevented a try for Knottingley full back William Stanfield, who was by far their most dangerous three quarter.
It was difficult for Skipton to relieve the pressure as any touch kicks merely resulted in Knottingley regaining possession and rumbling forward again, but after 18 minutes Skipton broke out into their opponents' 22, where Knottingley fell offside at the ruck giving Darren Howson the chance to open a 3-0 lead for Skipton. Knottingley quickly moved back onto the offensive and left wing Andrew Alexander converted to level the scores at 3-3. It seemed that Skipton's defensive work would lead to the half time score being all square, but deep in injury time the Skipton forwards went over the top at a ruck, giving away another penalty which Alexander converted to make the score 6-3 at half time.
The half time instructions were explicit - use the wind and slope to peg Knottingley back onto their own line. This they did, with Darren Howson kicking expertly into the bottom corner. An early chance to equalise the scores from a penalty saw the ball rebound from the post - but Skipton regained possession and then gained a further penalty five metres from the try line. The forwards set up a rolling maul and hooker Declan Hayes was driven over to put Skipton back into the lead 8-6 after 45 minutes.
The Knottingley pack seemed a little rattled to be hoist by their own petard, and showed some ill discipline to give further penalties away allowing Skipton to move back to the Knottingley line, where Wayne Berrey almost scored. A Knottingley penalty dropped short and Skipton were relieved to punt the ball downfield. Nineteen minutes into the second half the diminutive Jon Sharpe replaced Berrey and it was his first involvement that produced probably the game's defining moment. Knottingley gained possession and swiftly transferred the ball to pacy full back Stanfield. As he prepared himself to launch another attack a Lilliputian exocet suddenly shot across the field and knocked him back with a tackle that was felt in the back row of the packed stand. The full back was to take no further part in the game.
Darren Howson sliced wide a penalty chance to extend Skipton's lead, but within three minutes the dose was repeated, this time skipper Adam Oldfield taking over the kicking duties. His 35 metre kick, from the right of the posts, was accurate, allowing Skipton to move 11-6 into the lead. Immediately from the restart the young captain cleverly chipped the defence on the blind side, allowing Mike Beech to harry the full back into touch. Andy Phillips took clean ball at the front and when the ball was presented for the backs, the deceptive hands and quick feet of fly half Darren Howson exposed the defence and he skipped through untouched to score under the posts. The hordes of travelling supporters went wild, and celebrated further when Oldfield converted to make the score 18-6 with only 11 minutes remaining.
Knottingley now seemed to assume that the only way to win the game was by keeping the ball in their forwards, but the battering ram approach was to fail due to tenacious tackling by the whole team, and in particular Darren Howson, who dropped the immense number eight David Stead every time he ran at him. The Reds knew that all they had to do was retain possession to run down the clock, and their line was never again threatened.
The final whistle signalled a pitch invasion of ecstatic Skipton supporters, all eager to congratulate the team. The cheers that heralded Adam Oldfield when he received the trophy from Yorkshire president Russell Holmes could be heard throughout Calderdale, and it was a happy band who celebrated all the way back to Skipton and long into the night. The final jewel in the crown will hopefully be put in place on April 15 when the last league game of the season sees Stockbridge enter the lion's den, with Skipton needing to win to complete the league and cup double.
Team: G Smithson; M Beech; W Berrey (J Sharpe 59 mins); A Porter; M Wilson; D Howson; A Oldfield; R Birks; D Hayes; N King; A Phillip; A Winthrop; M Davison; G Heims; B Antonio.
Replacements (not used): D Swinglehurst; K Coe; P Jenkinson; P Boynton; B Burns.