Nottingham 21 Wharfedale 9

AFTER two weeks full of last-ditch drama and frenetic finales, this somewhat disappointing match petered out long before the end as both a contest and a spectacle.

There was indeed an eerie inevitability about Wharfedale's clear inability to fashion a score which put the contest well beyond them long before the final whistle.

A mere five points adrift at the interval, having played with the gale in their faces, the Greens, much as against Harrogate, not only failed to impose themselves on the game in the second-half but also found themselves wrong-footed and forced to work from deep defensive positions.

But Nottingham also possessed the cutting edge that Harrogate lacked to put away the hard-earned chances their cohesive and determined play deserved. Throughout the match, even in the first half with their backs against the wall, Nottingham possessed the priceless virtue of upping their game a gear when near the line. As a result they had something to show for virtually every foothold in attacking territory and it was this ability to extract points from pressure which in the end gave them their clear edge and a well-deserved victory

The Greens, in contrast, rarely got a sniff of the try-line, their rare moments of threat coming from isolated, individual runs from sufficiently deep for the home defence to squash out the challenge.

Not that Nottingham's eventual superiority was much in evidence at the start. For half an hour Wharfedale played promisingly well, with fluent, close passing, quick recycling at pace and a secure command of line control in the near gale conditions. They looked the better-equipped outfit and deservedly opened the scoring with an eleventh minute Jonathan Davies penalty after a well-driven maul and enjoyed the bulk of first-half possession.

But even at this stage the three-quarter work, for all its movement, looked a shade toothless and lacking in penetration. And rather ominously, even the best and most sustained of the Green attacks too frequently ended in a Nottingham turn-over.

The home side's opening reply came courtesy of a driven lineout maul, which propelled flanker Richard Lloyd over the line. Indeed, they owed much of their eventual dominance to a heavy reliance on this elaborately-constructed ploy, which produced the pressure for winger Russ Southam's first penalty at the very close of the half.

Given the conditions, 8-3 at the break appeared a fragile home lead, but the wind gradually eased during the course of the half, allowing a measure of more easily constructed rugby. It was, however, the more forceful and more physically committed home attitude that was responsible for taking the wind firmly out of the Wharfedale sails.

Nottingham commanded the territory and the initiative. They were hungrier, more cohesive and direct as a team. Wharfedale, in the early stages of the half, still enjoyed ample and usable possession, but despite their ominous lack of headway down the middle, they persisted in this somewhat perversely chosen route which rarely threatened the remotest penetration against a well-organised defence. Indeed, at the moment Andy Hodgson, in particular, seems to be having some difficulty in distinguishing between a barn door and a brick wall.

The lost of Hedley Verity five minutes in to the half with a broken nose also produced a major shift in the balance of power up front. Only without him do you truly appreciate the amount and quality of his unflashy, unsung work, the aggressive power and sheer abrasion of physical close quarter play which so saps and blunts the opposition forwards' energy.

Southam and Davies exchanged a couple of penalties apiece, but Nottingham began to control possession and with the Green forwards no longer dominant, Wharfedale found increasing difficulty in stemming the individual forward drives off the back of the carefully organised slow-motion mauls.

Once again the Dale showed their fallibility, when the back row battle has been lost, against a side possessing a big lock forward running off aggressive back-row play. And in Lloyd, who was everywhere, and fellow flanker Paul Thompson, the home side had just the springboard to unleash Craig Hammond for the supporting Southam to slip in under the posts and convert to seal the game at 21-9.

As conditions eased, Wharfedale at last adopted a more direct driving game up front which freed space across the three-quarters to Davies on the overlap. But the full-back was as comprehensively tackled, as were the earlier isolated deep runs of Gareth Johnston, Russ Buckroyd and George Smithson, the most direct Wharfedale runner on the day. So even the most promising Green thrusts were halted well before the home line was seriously threatened.

So the match resulted in a clear triumph for Nottingham built on cardinal team virtues the Greens will readily respect: aggressive defence, forcefully-committed forward effort and a real competitive edge when chances were there to be taken. They possessed a simple desire for victory that Wharfedale could not match on the day.

Despite failing to reach the mystical 24 League points target, there was the consoling outcome to the day that results elsewhere, with Rosslyn Park failing to make a mark on Plymouth, removed even the mathematical possibility of relegation. But the exacting final run-in to the season means that future points may well be at a premium.