Yorkshire Div Three

Skipton 34 Stocksbridge 23

SKIPTON duly completed their league campaign with the victory which saw them achieve the double of league title and cup winners - but not before giving their supporters a few scares.

With Stocksbridge actually having one of the better defensive records in the division, despite their lowly position, and Skipton having won by a single point on their visit to South Yorkshire earlier this season, the championship winning game was always likely to be a close affair.

And so it turned out, with perhaps the main difference between the sides being Skipton's greater desire to play an open, expansive game, which to some extent negated any advantage the huge Stocksbridge pack may have had.

Jon Sharpe took the place of late absentee Wayne Berrey, with Robbie King returning to the back row and Gary Heims taking the place of Matt Wilson on the wing.

The visitors kicked off with the advantage of a brisk chill wind at their backs and immediately penned Skipton back into their 22.

Gradually Skipton worked their way back upfield though, and from a clean lineout take by Mark Davison the forwards rumbled towards the Stocksbridge 22.

When the ball was presented cleanly, a simple miss move in the centre saw George Smithson hit the line at pace to score his 30th try of the season on eight minutes, with Darren Howson's attempted conversion failing.

An early score was just what the large crowd had hoped for, but their cheers were soon hushed when six minutes later the Stocksbridge pack exacted some revenge by mauling over from a lineout themselves to level the score.

Skipton were a little unlucky not to regain the lead almost immediately when they won a lineout on the visitors' try line, but the ball was held up to prevent the score. That the Stocksbridge forwards were fired up for the game was plain for all to see, and prop forward Bell was soon yellow carded for punching.

From that penalty Skipton again moved up field, and were awarded a further penalty when the visitors fell offside which Darren Howson slotted over to make the score 8-5 after 26 minutes, although the scores were again level seven minutes later when it was Skipton's turn to be penalised from a lineout.

With only five minutes remaining in the half, and the benefit of the strengthening wind to come in the second half, it was important that Skipton did not allow the visitors any chance to build a lead, although it looked as if Skipton had missed the chance to go back in front when Ben Antonio was held up over the line.

There was no mistake from the five metre scrum however, as a quick heel followed by a pick up from the New Zealand No 8 left a slot for Mark Davison to force his way over, Howson converting to make it 15-8.

Stocksbridge did add a penalty to send Skipton in at half time 15-11 ahead.

Any lingering doubts as to the name on the championship trophy were soon dispelled as a blistering start to the second half saw Skipton play some of their best rugby of the season. First of all, from a scrum 20

metres from the Stocksbridge line saw Ben Antonio pick up and drive forward. Three would be tacklers wished they weren't, and were shrugged off as minor irritations as the Southern hemisphere giant strode elegantly to the line, with Howson converting to extend the lead to 22-11. Shortly after Mike Beech accepted a crisp pass from full back Smithson to blaze his way down the right wing for an unconverted try in the corner.

When skipper Adam Oldfield found himself on the end of a scoring pass (in the process notching up the 500th league point of the season) which was converted by Howson, it seemed that the floodgates may open.

However all credit to the Stocksbridge team who made a couple of changes up front and finished the game more strongly than the home side.

They were not flattered by two tries, one of which was converted, to make the score 34-23.

Perhaps the Reds were thinking more of the celebrations to come than the game itself, and certainly joint coach Andy Guest was far from complimentary about the last quarter of the game.

When the final whistle came it was a weary home side that were more than a little relieved, but given the hard fought battles of recent weeks their tiredness could be excused. The new-found steel in this team was no better described than by coach Gerald Corrigan who stated that this was only the first step on a long haul back up the league structure.

In the words of former England prop Gareth Chilcott the team followed the game with a quiet pint - and then about 15 very noisy ones as yet another celebration got under way. This was not only a marvellous end to a successful league campaign but also very poignant. The Club's 125th anniversary year, a Yorkshire Silver Trophy triumph and a League Championship - and all from a season which started with three successive

league defeats.

Of all the beaming smiles to be seen around the club none shone brighter, or was more deserved than that on the face of president Harry Crabtree. Through many years of adversity he has ensured that the Club has kept going, taking on most of the jobs that needed doing at the club, and on Saturday he got his reward.

Skipton: G Smithson, M Beech, J Sharpe, A Porter, G Heims, D Howson, A Oldfield, R Birks, D Hayes, N King, A Phillip, A Winthrop, M Davison, R King, B Antonio.

Replacements (not used) P Jenkinson, G Corrigan, A Guest.

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