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Wharfedale dig deep to edge closer to safety
Blaydon 36 Wharfedale 31
If before the game Wharfedale, after three fruitless matches, had been offered these two precious bonus points against the side lying second in the division, they would surely have taken them.
The gap above the relegation zone has now stretched to 14 points.
In the end, however, it took a performance of courage and determination, described by coach Tom McGee as one of the finest he has seen from the side this season, to come back repeatedly from a first-half pounding at the hands of the powerful home pack.
Twice they were held up over the Wharfedale line, and they repeatedly turned down kickable penalties to go for their trademark catch-and-drive, only to meet with impressive Green defence, even when twice reduced to 14 men.
The formidable Blaydon forwards must have been rubbing their eyes to see the half-time scoreboard read only 19-10.
That Wharfedale got on the board at all was due to a lung-bursting 75-yard interception from Tom Barrett, then a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Not only was that Wharfedale’s single period of pressure in Blaydon territory, but it was the first penalty they had been awarded in the match; that Blaydon had been by that stage awarded eight was a fair reflection on how the game had gone.
Thirteen minutes into the second half Blaydon seemed to be out of sight with two more tries, the second one a penalty try awarded when both packs seemed to slip in the muddy conditions, to make the score 26-10.
If two first-half yellow cards had given the Greens an uphill task, those were merely the hors d’oeuvre: Adam Howard’s first-half yellow card for a high tackle seemed harsh, but there was no excuse for the red mist which caused him to retaliate so enthusiastically when punched, and his straight red will give him time for reflection.
The ensuing penalty led to Blaydon’s favourite catch-and-drive and another try for a 36-24 lead, but by this stage Wharfedale had themselves built up a head of steam with two drives of their own, credit for the finish going to stand-in captain Steve Graham, who is having his most influential season.
Still Wharfedale refused to lie down, and their 14 men gave the home side a torrid final ten minutes, to the extent that the referee eventually produce two yellow cards for desperate technical offences.
The Greens were able at last to drive Tom Wareing over the line for a precious fourth try, the second bonus point coming from Barrett’s faultless boot.
In conditions which were made for the home side’s forward strength, the foundation for Wharfedale’s comeback was their pack, led by their captain Graham. Behind the scrum, Woodhead was back to his quicksilver best, while his half-back partner Barrett had a fine match, adding four conversions and a penalty to his first-half try.