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Wharfedale's trip to Cambridge assumes massive importance
Buy this photo » Wharfedale centre Joe Donkin looks for support
Wharfedale 12, Old Albanians 15
Wharfedale players and supporters were scratching their heads in disbelief at the end of this SSE National League One match.
There was no point asking the large travelling Old Albanians following for their help either because they too could not believe why this match was not all over by the end of a scoreless first half.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Wharfedale eventually achieved what they had threatened.
Peter Lucock’s simple try, through the gaping centre of the visitors’ defence, was going to be the beginning of many, the floodgates were going to open, the reward for total dominance of the game up to that point in every respect except in the rather important respect of crossing the try line.
Even Old Albanians' player-coach, fly half James Shanahan, admitted that Wharfedale should have had a try-scoring bonus point by half-time.
The visitors’ midfield had been as porous as any seen at The Avenue this season, with Philip Woodhead, Tom Barrett, Joe Donkin, Lucock and Adam Whaites making repeated breaks, only for the final pass to be dropped or go astray.
As early as the second minute, a pass had been spilled in the act of scoring, and by half-time enough chances had gone begging to win the match several times over.
Their much-vaunted half-backs misfiring, the visitors were having to rely on robust defence at the gain line to keep themselves in the match.
Conceding the lead, however, seemed to galvanise Old Albanians, and an immediate penalty put them on the scoreboard.
But Wharfedale had already lost playmaker Barrett to a hamstring injury at the end of the first quarter, and when Woodhead followed him at 50 minutes and Donkin ten minutes later, Wharfedale’s creative edge had gone, and with Old Albanians gaining in confidence, the home side’s ambitions were restricted to defending their line.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is often possible to identify a single incident on which a match turns, and in this case it was the failure to control a ball at the back of a Wharfedale scrum.
The visitors hacked on and a long period of pressure followed, during which, with only 13 minutes left, the Greens’ replacement scrum half James Gough was awarded a yellow card for a technical offence.
In his absence, centre Chris Lombaard and scrum half Stef Liebenberg scored simple tries through the depleted defence.
Having at half-time almost being able to taste their side’s first bonus-point win since November, the increasingly desperate Wharfedale supporters urged their favourites on for at least a losing bonus point as the clock ran down, and were ultimately rewarded when Dan Solomi outstripped the mismatched defence on the left to score in the corner.
With Macclesfield recording yet another last-gasp victory, Wharfedale’s margin ahead of the third relegation place is now just one point.
No-one needs reminding of the importance of next Saturday’s match at bottom club Cambridge.
Wharfedale: Georgiou; Davies, Lucock, Donkin (Mason 62), Whaites; Barrett (Horsfall 23), Woodhead (Gough 51); Steel (c ), Graham (Larkin 59), Tampin (Dickinson 68), Howard, Rhodes, Wareing, Solomi, Myers.
Old Albanians: Gregg (Rayner 65); Adams, Lombaard, Holmes (Speirs 65), Marchon; Shanahan, Liebenberg; Briggs (Hughes 68), McNamee (Staff 19), Schilacci, Bickle, Cooper-Millar, Hankin, Fahrenheim (Stevens 71), Hamilton.
Wharfedale: Tries: Lucock, Solomi. Conversion: Georgiou.
Old Albanians: Tries: Lombaard, Liebenberg. Conversion: Rayner. Penalty: Gregg.