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Ross Hayden snatches victory for Cleckheaton with late wonder try
Rochdale 22, Cleckheaton 29
Cleckheaton hit back from a ten-point deficit at the interval to secure a vital SSE North One East bonus-point victory with a last-minute wonder try from Ross Hayden.
First-half tries from Richard Piper and Martin Woodhead, the latter finishing off an excellent period of play with both forwards and backs handling at pace, had been countered by a try from Rochdale’s talented fly half James Duffy, and they scored three further tries in seven minutes while Cleckheaton prop Andy Piper was in the sin bin.
Previously unbeaten at home, Rochdale had shown how clinical they could be with their enterprising play gaining a bonus point before the break, but there was always a feeling that once the visitors tightened their defence and committed more numbers to the breakdown, they could exploit weaknesses out wide.
Cleckheaton increased their intensity in the second half and were rewarded with a converted try from Matt Piper in the 43rd minute, the centre bursting through from the 22-metre line, and a penalty from Hayden.
Despite gaining the upper hand, Cleckheaton were staring defeat in the face and a dent to their proud record of only one defeat in all competitions this season.
The home supporters were encouraging the referee to blow the final whistle but, with a minute to go, the visitors were awarded a penalty in front of the posts as the Cleckheaton pack laid siege to the Rochdale line.
Hayden duly obliged with the points and it appeared that a draw and two points was a fair result.
Much to the consternation of the home support, the referee deemed that there was enough time left to allow a restart.
From the resultant drop-out, the ball was caught and swiftly moved upfield where Hayden came bursting through at pace to win the race to the line and gain his side an unexpected but deserved victory.
The large contingent of Cleckheaton supporters were in raptures as Hayden rubbed salt into the Rochdale wounds with a wonderful conversion from the touchline.
This was a fantastic advert for rugby at this level. Two committed, well-coached and enterprising sides played in a good spirit and it was well refereed.
Rochdale had proved to be Cleckheaton’s hardest opponents of the season and can take great credit for their part in a tough encounter.
Similarly it must be said that, despite the rivalry of the two counties, Rochdale’s hospitality was first class off the field, with their wonderful facilities being the envy of many clubs higher up the leagues.
For Cleckheaton, skipper Richard Piper was at the heart of everything, barging his way upfield and taking several tacklers with him each time.
Matt Piper was not far behind and the whole side earned great praise for the way in which they turned almost certain defeat into a victory which could be seen as the defining moment of the season so far.
They are now 19 points ahead with 12 games to go, seven of which are at home.
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