Wharfedale 15

Otley 8

ON an afternoon where defences were generally in charge, Wharfedale finally halted their losing run against derby rivals Otley in a match that doubled up as a first-round Yorkshire Cup tie.

The Greens had lost their previous four matches against the Cross Greeners but triumphed 15-8 at The Avenue in their National League Two North opener, courtesy of tries by back-rowers Rob Baldwin and Matt Speres and a penalty and conversion by fly half Jack Blakeney-Edwards, one of several players on view who have played for both clubs.

Otley, who failed to take advantage of opportunities, replied with a try by winger Henry Roberts and a penalty by fly half Ben Smith in front of a crowd of 693.

At times it seemed as if Otley were destined to make it a nap hand of triumphs against Dale but the hosts’ head coach Jon Feeley did not agree.

He explained: “I said to the boys at half-time ‘They have come down the slope and are still only two points in front despite dominating the scrum and the ruck’ and had not got far enough ahead to make it count in the second half.

“We had excellent fitness levels after a great pre-season and we had the ability to come back at them.”

The Greens lost full back Rian Hamilton (torn hamstring), hooker Dan Stockdale (gashed head) and lock Jim Mason (ankle injury) in the space of two minutes just before the half-hour, with Sam Gaudie, Will Smith and Ben Leacock replacing them.

“That was quite a big change for us that we needed to adapt to and it took us a while to do that,” admitted Feeley, “but once we did the players who came on made a big difference.

“To concede only eight points to Otley is a massive plus and shows just how far our defence has come in the last year.

“They battered us and were bigger than us but our technique was not found wanting, and in the middle of the field 18-year-old Oscar Canny (son of former player John) is a real find.”

Blakeney-Edwards put the hosts ahead with a fourth-minute penalty from just outside the 22 after Otley were offside but missed another attempt five minutes later and the visitors made him pay.

Full back Ben Magee – who was a threat all match - came into the line to put Roberts over in the left-hand corner in the 14th minute but Ben Smith missed both the difficult conversion and a penalty four minutes later.

After their triple substitution, the hosts pressed for the rest of the half, causing referee Ben Rayner to sin-bin Otley flanker Will Burns in the 35th minute but that didn’t stop the visitors from pushing the home side off an attacking five-metre scrum.

However, Wharfedale’s replacements made an impact, and none more so than scrum half Gaudie a minute into the second half.

After a determined run by winger Oli Cicognini, Gaudie’s speed gave him a half-break and he put Speres over on the left.

Another Magee run had the Greens back pedalling and Ben Smith levelled with a 45th-minute penalty but the visitors could not halt Wharfedale’s momentum for their second try 16 minutes later.

Gaudie, Canny and Smith almost created something on the right but, safe in the knowledge that Rayner had already awarded them a penalty, Wharfedale moved the attack left for Baldwin to cross in the left-hand corner from a looping pass.

Baldwin had the sense to run infield to make Blakeney-Edwards’ conversion slightly easier but the Greens spent a large proportion of the rest of the match in defence, winning a vital turnover in their right-hand corner before Otley were held up on the other side of the field.

Wharfedale survived that five-metre scrum, Cicognini won them a crucial defensive penalty as the clock ticked towards 80 minutes and Leacock stole an important line-out, allowing Blakeney-Edwards to kick the ball off the field to signal a home victory.

Feeley said: “Sam in particular brought a great deal of pace and energy to the game and he has that individual flair.

“He came straight out after half-time and caught them napping, making the crucial break for Speres’ try.

“Sam is very able and you can see the attributes he has. He is speedy, powerful and very fit and asks questions all the time but perhaps the most pleasing point was his game management, which is what he has had to work on most.

“However, he had control of what he was doing at all times and organised people around him.”

Feeley added: “I can’t speak highly enough of Speresy. He has come to us from North Ribblesdale so he has stepped up a number of divisions but his ability was always capable of coping with that.

“He is a hooker by trade but he has been so good in pre-season that we simply had to find a space for him and that is why he started for us in the back row.

“He was all over the pitch, his effort in defence was immense and in attack he seems to pop up on the shoulder (of teammates) and create so many yards and I was really pleased for him that he got that vital try.”

As for the injuries, Feeley said: “Rian could possibly be out for a month with a minimal tear and we will wait to assess the others but I would imagine that Stockers will be fine – farmers don’t go down easily and we will stitch him up and cart him out.”

Otley’s director of rugby Charlie Maunder said: “It was the first game of the season and we didn’t take advantage when we were ahead.

“We didn’t play our shape or system and were a bit hesitant at times and it wasn’t a true reflection of how we want to play.

“We made some decisions that, ten games in, we would do differently but, as they say, you win or you learn and there was a lot to learn from here, but all credit to Wharfedale, who were fantastic.

“We pressurised, never gave up and picked up a losing bonus point away from home, and I think that we waited until February last season to get one of those.

“Elliot Morgan did well on his debut, Freddie Watson made an impact off the bench and Riggy (Will Rigg) and the front-row boys were fantastic early doors but we didn’t piece it together for more than five or ten-minute spells. We had enough opportunities to win it.

“We have another big game next week at home to Huddersfield – another derby – and we will look at what we have done here, stick together, work in training and look to improve but the boys are disappointed.

“We were missing Joe Graham with a calf injury but we hope to have him back within two weeks but Henry Watson is going off to Japan and what we had here was pretty much our first-team squad.”