Yorkshire Division One: Bradford Salem 45 Hullensians 31

BRADFORD Salem secured their Yorkshire Division One status for another year with an excellent victory over Hullensians in a high-scoring game at Shay Lane.

On a warm, sunny day, and with both teams enjoying the luxury of playing on a firm pitch for the first time since the beginning of the season, it was always likely to be a fast, open game.

In a frenetic opening, Salem received an early let off when only a cruel bounce denied Hullensians scoring from a kick and chase.

However, the reprieve proved temporary as a mistake by Salem’s Latvian prop Gundars Griekis was punished when Hullensians fly half Chris Harding scored from a quick counter-attack to put the visitors 5-0 in front.

Minutes later, only a last-ditch cover tackle from Salem’s other Latvian import, scrum half Martins Bokiss, prevented a further score but the visitors were soon back on the attack, and, following a period of intense pressure, scrum half Chris Smith dived over from close range to score a try improved by full-back Tom McCarthy to give Hullensians a 12-0 lead.

With 20 minutes gone, Salem started to gain some composure, and, from a solid scrum, a clever runaround by Andy Robinson put fellow centre Nick Fontaine through a gap before he drew the final defender to send full back Danny Belcher over for a try which Robinson improved to reduce the deficit to 12-7.

Salem made a bad mistake straight from the restart, however, and were soon defending on their own line.

Following wave after wave of attacks, Salem were unable to stop flanker Scott Jackson crossing for a try, McCarthy adding the extras to increase the visitors' lead to 19-7.

At this point, the hosts were under the cosh, and only a try-saving tackle from Belcher and a timely interception by winger Sam Savage prevented further Hull tries.

Then, having weathered the storm, Salem broke from inside their own 22 and good work by flanker Conor Wood, Robinson and winger Ryan Smith got the hosts deep into opposition territory.

From the next breakdown, a well-timed inside pass from Robinson put Belcher clear and he returned the earlier compliment as he sent Fontaine scorching under the posts for a try, with Robinson adding the simple conversion to get Salem back to 19-14 at the break.

Skipper and No 8 Christian Baines set the tone straight from the restart as he scattered several would-be tacklers on a punishing 30-metre charge.

A superb grubber kick by fly half Harry Hall then got Salem to within striking distance, and, in the next passage of play, Wood went over in the right-hand corner to bring the scores level at 19-19.

Salem could consider themselves extremely fortunate not to go behind as a Hullensians player inexplicably dropped the ball with the line at his mercy.

To make matters worse for the visitors, they then conceded a penalty which allowed their opponents to clear the ball virtually the length of the field.

With confidence growing and after both Hall and Belcher came close to scoring, Salem took the lead for the first time when Wood powered over for his second try following good work by Savage, with Robinson landing the conversion for a 26-19 lead.

Wood then became hero turned villain as he received a yellow card from West Yorkshire Society referee Glen Cockcroft after he was caught offside for a second time.

Hullensians soon took advantage of the extra man as flanker Dan Brothwood scored from a five-metre line-out to reduce the arrears to 26-24.

Salem’s cause wasn’t helped when Savage’s restart kick went dead to give Hullensians a scrum on halfway.

However, Salem managed to turn over possession, and only an unfortunate bounce prevented Smith from scoring from a kick through.

As if to rub salt in the wound, a poor kick by Savage was then charged down and centre Dom Bloomfield was gifted a try that improved by Harding to put the visitors 31-26 in front with less than 10 minutes remaining.

Salem suffered another blow when Bokiss had to leave the field with an injury, Robinson and Fontaine having to share the scrum-half role in the Latvian’s absence.

Despite of having to reorganise their back line, Salem hit back when Baines crashed over for try which was improved by Robinson to give the hosts a narrow 33-31 advantage.

With five minutes remaining, the game could have gone either way and there was a sense that the outcome might just hinge on a single moment of individual brilliance.

And so it proved when Fontaine received the ball on halfway line with seemingly nothing on, only to suddenly burst through two tackles before handing off a defender and outpacing the cover defence to score a superb try to put Salem 38-31 ahead.

In the dying seconds, and with Hullensians chasing the game, the visitors launched an audacious counter-attack from their own 22.

However, Salem forced an error, and, after recovering possession, Smith went over for try.

Then, with the final and successful kick from the touchline, Robinson reached a personal milestone of 500 points for the club as the hosts sealed a 45-31 victory to finish their season in style.