Wharfedale RFC 5 - 24 Chester RUFC
By Tim Carty
Team performance of the season?
This was a very good Chester performance, arguably their best of the season, gaining a bonus point away win against difficult opposition writes Des Hickie. Wharfedale have overcome a shaky start to their season, moving away from the relegation zone and into mid-table. They had lost only narrowly, 28-25, on their visit to Hare Lane, and had only recently downed high fliers Huddersfield away from home. They, reasonably, had every expectation of giving Chester a tough time, and quite conceivably getting a result. That they not only failed to do so but had effectively lost control of the game by half time, was a tribute to the quality of performance by every player in the Chester side. It is probably unfair to single out any individuals, so strong was the team performance, but the complete dominance of the Chester back row –Josh Woods, Mike Craven and Shay Owen – with and without the ball, deserves a special mention. The day was marred only by leg injuries, to hooker Scott Robson in the first few minutes and to No.8 Shay Owen in the dying seconds.
The match was played on a sunny afternoon and on a firm ground, but with a very strong wind blowing down the pitch. Wharfedale, playing into the wind, tried to apply early pressure carrying the ball through multiple phases, but without ever really stretching the visitors’ defence. In contrast Chester had three dangerous attacks in the first quarter. Two petered out, the first with a Wharfedale penalty close to their try line and the second with a turnover. The third, on the 20-minute mark, had a much more patient and composed build up. Sean Green and Tom Foden stretched the defence, switching the direction play before centre Macca van Sertima carried strongly into the home 22. The forwards then carried the ball on through a series of rucks and pick and goes that at first only yielded slow ball. But, as the Wharfedale defence got stretched, the ball got quicker until, after 14 phases, it found Shay Owen in space and he crossed for the try, which was well converted by fly half James Robins.
In the second quarter the visitors tightened their grip on proceedings. After 30 minutes the pack drove a 5 metre lineout infield for Josh Woods to score a second converted try. Six minutes later Wharfedale won a lineout on their own 22 only to turn the ball over. Josh Woods and then Tom Foden carried the ball left, towards the try line. The ball was recycled but the pass that followed begged to be knocked on. However, Mike Craven scooped it up from around his ankles, before it was moved to Tom Foden, who stepped inside the last defenders to score an unconverted try.
At 19-0 Chester were seemingly well in front but, with the wind to face in the second half, it was critical that they maintained their advantage. Wharfedale clearly wanted something on the scoreboard before half time to keep them in touch. That they got nothing spoke volumes for the Chester defence. In the remaining minutes of the half the home side had three attacking lineouts deep in the Chester 22, but the pack’s defensive maul kept them out each time. When they tried to move the ball wider, they found the speed and structure of the Chester defence completely impenetrable.
Chester began the second half well, keeping Wharfedale at a distance, but in the 50th minute they coughed up a penalty that allowed Wharfedale to set up a line out 10 metres from their line. From there the ball went to Jack Blakeney-Edwards, the home fly half, who managed a break before being hauled down near the Chester line. There followed a series of pick and goes before the ball was moved left to winger Oliver Cicognini who scored an unconverted try.
This glimmer of hope for Wharfedale was quickly snuffed out. Chester turned over the ball as Wharfedale tried to run the restart kick. This penned them back in deep their own territory, where Harrison Vare eventually crossed in the left corner for an unconverted try - restoring the visitors’ lead to 19 points. There were no more scores, but the remainder of the match reinforced Chester’s dominance. Wharfedale’s half backs were denied much possession by the visitors’ pack, and that which they got was often pressured. Hence the home side’s half backs ran out of ideas, attempting non-existant outside breaks or kicking loosely in the face of an implacable defence.