Cleckheaton 8 Huddersfield YMCA 12
Cleckheaton rugby chairman Neil Gillan walked into the first-team changing room on Saturday tea-time to find a sea of glum faces.
Derby visitors Huddersfield YMCA had just completed the double over the hosts but Gillan wanted to put things in perspective after this defeat by the second-placed club in front of Cleckheaton’s biggest crowd of the season.
“I know you are feeling down,” he said, “but we are 13 points ahead at the top of the table with six games to go.
“If I had offered you that position at the start of the season, you would have bitten my hand off.”
Although everyone within earshot reckoned YMCA were worthy winners on a day when the home side had two players sin-binned – winger Martin Woodhead for a deliberate knock-on late in the first half and lock Ryan Piercy for a high tackle midway through the second half – the home side certainly laid a platform for victory.
They only trailed 7-0 at half-time with the wind to come in the second half.
Ross Hayden cut into that deficit with a penalty three minutes after the interval.
In the 55th minute, player-coach Rob Afoa Peterson got on the end of a driving maul to score a try that put the leaders ahead.
But YMCA, who won the reverse fixture 12-7 last October, were then inspired by a rallying call from No 8 Mark Whitehead when they were behind the posts waiting for Hayden to attempt the conversion of Afoa Peterson’s try.
With Piercy in the sin-bin, the visitors fashioned the try of the match in the 70th minute, left winger Lloyd Bentley – son of former British Lion John – appearing in the right centre channel to charge towards Cleckheaton’s line before passing inside for flanker Sam Hodge to score in the corner.
Their first try in the 23rd minute was also due to good support play, second row James Bell’s offload being snaffled up by YMCA’s man of the match, centre and skipper Ed Barber, who sprinted over.
Former Bees winger Gavin Stead added the conversion but missed an eminently kickable penalty after Woodhead’s sin-binning just prior to the interval, the kicker’s foot slipping as he made contact.
Trailing 12-8 well inside the final ten minutes, Cleckheaton did not feel they had time to kick a penalty and score a try, so they went for the try option.
However, they lost a vital line-out on their own throw deep in YMCA’s half and, as the home attacks became more frantic, they were eventually penalised for obstruction by referee John Wolstenholme to signal the final whistle.
“We didn’t play in the right areas,” said Cleckheaton centre James Wilson, “and made too many silly mistakes.
“They were the better team but we will still get promoted. We hope to welcome YMCA down here next season so we can get our revenge.”
Stead said: “This match meant more to us than them as we are trying to seal our place in the play-offs but I still think Cleck will go up as champions.
“At times their forwards looked very dangerous but our forwards stepped up in the second half and gave us a bit of ball to work with.”