Yorkshire Division One: Bradford Salem 10 Beverley 15

ALTHOUGH Bradford Salem gave high-flying Beverley a real run for their money, another narrow home defeat increased their Yorkshire Division One relegation fears.

With the exception of Conor Wood, who is still suffering from concussion, Salem, for the first time this season, were able to select a virtually full-strength side.

However, their dreadful luck continued when, on the morning of the game, two key players - scrum half James Simpson and prop Will Collins - had to pull out due to illness.

This forced head coach Neil Spence into making some late positional changes, with Latvian Martins Bokiss starting at nine.

To compound Salem’s woes, they then lost full back Danny Belcher to a hamstring injury after 15 minutes and fly half Harry Hall to a head injury five minutes later.

The teams had totally contrasting form coming into the game, with Beverley on an unbeaten run of seven matches stretching back to Dedember 2, whereas Salem were seeking a first win since beating Wheatley Hills 30-24 on November 11.

Salem had a chance to take an early lead when referee Andrew Forsythe, who was on exchange from the Leicestershire Society, penalised Beverley on the first play but the normally reliable Belcher pulled his penalty attempt wide of the uprights.

Then, after six minutes, good ball retention by Beverley resulted in a try for prop Raymond Coates.

The next 15 minutes were dominated by the referee’s whistle as he seemed to deem every tackle at chest height to be dangerous.

After pulling both captains to one side for a warning, the referee eventually ran out of patience and Salem flanker Sam Savage was the player unlucky enough to be yellow carded for his team’s supposed persistent offending.  

From the resultant penalty, Beverley extended their lead to eight points courtesy of the boot of their fly half and captain Phil Duboulay.

It was then Beverley’s turn to be reduced to 14 men as Coates was sent to the sin-bin, and, although Salem winger Callum Armstrong, who had come on as a replacement for Belcher, missed a long-range penalty attempt, minutes later he was on target from in front of the sticks to reduce the arrears to 8-3 at the break.  

Salem found themselves on the back foot for much of the opening quarter of the second half, and only excellent defending on their own line kept their opponents at bay.

Beverley turned down a couple of kickable penalties, electing instead to kick for touch and go for catch and drives.

The pressure looked to have told as Beverley moved the ball wide on the left, only for the final pass to go forward.

Both Armstrong and Duboulay missed penalties before Beverley broke the deadlock after 67 minutes with a well-worked move as centre James Graham took an inside pass before charging over the line for a fine try improved by Duboulay to put the visitors 15-3 in front.

This seemed to jolt Salem into action as, all of a sudden, they started to get the edge in the scrums.

With 15 minutes to go, Salem second-rower Elliott Cousins went on a 50- metre charge, only to be dragged down agonisingly short of the line by the cover defence.

However, the hosts continued to pile on the pressure, and after Salem skipper and No 8 Christian Baines was initially held up over the line, he was not to be denied, as, from the very next scrum, he powered his way over the line.

Armstrong added the extras to get Salem back into the game at 15-10 and set up a grandstand finish.

At this point, Beverley were on the rack and their cause wasn’t helped when, with less than five minutes remaining, they were once again reduced to 14 men when second-rower Adam Corkish was sent to the bin for a clumsy high shot on Baines.

With time ticking away, Salem looked like they would steal victory but lack of composure in their opponent’s 22 resulted in a couple of unforced errors, which allowed a relieved Beverley side to close out the game and run out 15-10 winners.