National Division One

Newbury 18 Wharfedale 10

Teeton Mill may have won the 2.20, the Hennessy Gold Cup, at Newbury by the comfortable margin of 15 lengths on Saturday but half a mile down the road at Monks Lane the Greens came second in a much closer contest, writes Keith Lewis.

It was a could have won rather than should have won performance by a Wharfedale side which surprisingly faltered in the final furlong just when you might have expected a late challenge.

With an hour gone the Blues just had their noses in front 11-10, but the Greens were getting into their stride and the odds on an away victory were shortening by the minute. However it all suddenly changed when a spot of barging on the rails led to a stewards' inquiry and Newbury were awarded a penalty try, and much as they tried after that the Dalesmen never quite had the whip hand again.

The Greens drew their only previous game at Newbury 15-15 last January and were hoping to go one better to record their fifth consecutive league win of 98/99.

They started with the 15 who finished the previous week's game against Harrogate and welcomed back Paul Evans to the bench, fully recovered from the wrist injury he sustained in October.

Newbury are a club outwardly resplendent in their £3.75 million headquarters but there are now rumours of problems behind the scenes, compounded by an indifferent start to this season.

They currently have former Wales coach Kevin Bowring at the helm after the departure of Keith Richardson to Gloucester and their ambition to secure a Premiership place by 2001 has brought many changes on the playing side and a hefty weekly wage bill.

Their line-up included Irish international winger Tyrone Howe, New Zealand sevens international fly-half Justin Poihippi, former Bristol flanker Simon Gully and hooker Rob Kelham, who has recently returned from London Irish to take over the captaincy from their Wales Under 21 No 8 Craig Davies.

Among their replacements were scrum-half John Farr, once of Coventry and Winnington Park, and Croatia's World Cup second row Tome Anticic.

The going was officially good to soft at the start after heavy rain in the morning and Wharfedale started with the distinct disadvantage of having to face the low afternoon sun.

Scrum-half David Whitfield put a thundering tackle in on Blues' centre Garrath Reayer as the home side applied the early pressure, and after five minutes the Greens were penalised following a careless mistake at a lineout, allowing Poihippi to open the scoring with a kick from 20 metres out.

Although the Wharfedale pack had no apparent problems winning their own first-phase ball, it was invariably too slow to do much with and Whitfield had to improvise with a series of chips through a rapidly advancing Newbury defence.

Left wing Steve McManus chased the first through ball and on the opposite flank fullback Andy Hodgson was just denied a try in the corner after a similar chase.

The tendency for the ball to stick too long in the back row also meant that Whitfield was under considerable pressure from his opposite number Brett Wakfer and the home scrum-half was eventually penalised for jumping on Whitfield's back well before the ball was out of a scrum allowing David Pears to level the scores at 3-3.

The Greens' stand-off was tantalisingly close with two other long-range penalty attempts into the blinding sun as Wharfedale launched a series of attacks and againt the run of play Newbury eventually regained the lead when Poihippi landed his second penalty in the 35th minute. Greens' lock David Lister brought the half to an end with an exhilarating break down the left but the cover arrived before the support.

Newbury extended their lead five minutes after the break when Gully was mauled over for a try following a close-range lineout, but the Dalesmen responded with arguably their best spell of the game, led by their captain Charlie Vyvyan and his back row colleagues Russ Buckroyd and Hedley Verity.

It was Verity who caught Poihippi in possession inside the Newbury '22' and although the defending side secured their own ball from the resulting scrum Buckroyd managed to charge down Poihippi's attempted clearance and race on to touch the ball down.

It was the first back row try Newbury have conceded this season and with Pears landing the conversion the game was evenly poised at 11-10.

Several years ago at Winnington Park Farr was the highly rated protg of Dewi Morris and his introduction after 60 minutes brought some extra pace to the Newbury midfield.

A slick handling move sent Blues' winger Jeremy Griffiths heading for the corner and it took a nifty tackle by Wharfedale's Rugby League exponent Hodgson to prevent a certain try.

Griffiths was pole-axed by the kind of impact that would have delighted the Odsal faithful, but referee Ray Meerloo was not impressed and after consulting the touch judge awarded a penalty try which Poihippi duly converted to make it 18-10.

Although there were strong runs by McManus and centre Jonathan Davies in the final stages the two scores required for a win proved beyond the Dalesmen.

Indeed the deficit might have grown if it had not been for two excellent cover tackles by McManus as Newbury played out the remainder of the game in the Greens' half.

Not all Dalespeople came away from Newbury empty-handed. The Berkshire club have a weekly guess the final score competition and one Wharfedale supporter had an each-way bet, predicting two Wharfedale winning scores and an 18-10 triumph for the home side.

As it turned out it was a roll-over jackpot and the lucky tyke scooped £500 -- better than a day at the races!

Tomorrow (Saturday) Wharfedale are away at league leaders Manchester, ko 2.15pm. Their ground is at Grove Park, Grove Lane, Cheadle Hulme, and the simplest directions for supporters are: leave Junction 3 on the M60 and head south on the A34 towards Wilmslow. The second roundabout is after about 2.5 miles. Exit left here and the club is 400 metres on the right.

The Wharfedale team is: N Heseltine; S McManus, A Hodgson, C Walker, B Whitfield; D Pears, D Whitfield; R Lancaster, J Lawn, N Dickinson, D Wood, D Lister, R Buckroyd, H Verity, C Vyvyan (capt); reps J Davies, D Harrison, D McCabe, P Evans, J Metcalfe, G Hindle.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.