Yorkshire Division Two: Old Grovians 51 Wath 17

JOE Garforth has had a rollercoaster of a few weeks but has finished them on a high.

The Old Grovians prop, playing his first match for the club since their opening-day Yorkshire Division Two home derby win over Yarnbury, was prominent in a fine eight-try team display against Wath, also at Elm Tree Farm.

Explaining his six-week absence, the tight-head said: “I have had a nasty chest infection for all that time and for the past two weeks I have been fighting off the wind and the rain in Japan!

“We had tickets for South Africa v Canada and we were supposed to see England v France, which was unfortunately called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.

“But two weeks there was an amazing experience, it is a beautiful place and I can’t wait to go back – hopefully next year.”

Garforth, who epitomised his team’s great start against Wath with some strong carries, only arrived back in England last Tuesday morning but still made it to training that night, showing the kind of commitment that Grovians coach Andy Hinchliffe is seeking.

“I landed at Manchester at 9.30am on Tuesday and didn’t really sleep until after training. Then as soon as my head hit the pillow I was gone.”

Garforth had been feeling miffed about not playing club rugby and admitted: “After being away for so long it was frustrating watching and I haven’t done much training but I got about 50 minutes under my belt against Wath and wanted to do as much as I could and get a real blow-out - in the first half at least – and go from there but I was blowing at half-time.”

Grovians, perhaps taking advantage of Wath’s disrupted preparation – they arrived in dribs and drabs after the closure of the M1 between Sheffield and Barnsley – set off like a house on fire.

Wath knocked on at the kick-off and Garforth and centre Jack Hartley made decent ground before centre Gaz Phillips put winger Robin Jones over after just 46 seconds.

Full back Max Kennedy went over in the fourth minute after a perfect kick by stumbling fly half Alex Masterson, and Jones was over again in the 12th minute after Hartley’s scoring pass.

Wath, who felt hard done by when referee Colin Tovey took no action when prop Anthony Hamilton received a shoulder to the face, forced a five-metre scrum from a Tom Quinn chip and chase, but their efforts were plagued by injuries.

Physio Alice Smith covered more metres than many of their players, and she also treated centre Anthony Barratt for an ankle injury and flanker Ashley Rothery for a cut head and then a ‘dead leg’.

Grovians, who were showing some delightful moves in attack, got their bonus-point try in the 31st minute via flanker Danny Secker after Brown (twice) and winger George Butler were involved in the build-up.

There was still time for two more home tries in the first half as Masterson capitalised on a Barbarians-style attack in the 38th minute, and Brown put Kennedy over in stoppage time.

Winger Sam Holt did get Wath on the board with a try three minutes later, with fly half Jack Whitlam converting, but they still must have felt shell-shocked at a 36-7 interval deficit, considering that only one place separated the clubs in the table before kick-off.

Although the injuries continued apace for seventh-placed Wath in the second half, inevitably they got more of a toehold in the match, with Barratt getting their second try in the 51st minute.

Holt knocked on a presentable chance on the left wing two minutes later but they lost No 8 Adam West with a rib injury in the 54th minute.

Kennedy completed his hat-trick seven minutes later for sixth-placed Grovians but Wath hit back when experienced replacement Richard Hill was held up over the line in the 64th minute.

Tovey awarded them a penalty try four minutes later. Replacement Harry Evans was sin-binned immediately before that for a third successive team scrum infringement, while replacement prop Ben Weaving was shown yellow after the try had been scored.

Down to 13 men, Grovians not only held out but added a Brown penalty in the 73rd minute before flanker Harry Hardy bagged their eighth try deep into injury time to bring up the half-century.

Garforth said: “We took advantage of their slowish backs, which was a nice change from the previous week’s defeat at West Park Leeds.”

Grovians can be erratic but Garforth isn’t using constant team changes as an overall excuse, saying: “We are getting 20 down to training on Tuesdays and Thursdays so it can sometimes be a reason, like when we change front rows, but not really.

“We were really clinical in the first half, came out of the blocks firing and scored within a minute. We clicked, kept the ball, kicked well and took our chances.

“In the second half the referee wanted to let them back in it a little bit but you are always going to find that and we were impressive overall.

“We are looking for promotion and want to finish in the top four (they remain sixth) but we will take top half.”

Wath have now lost all four of their away matches this season but won all three of their home games, and former Doncaster, Halifax and Hull Ionians player Hill admitted: “We were blighted by injuries here and we seemed to lose someone at every breakdown, but we have had that all season.

“It was disappointing to lose someone to concussion from a shoulder charge to the head but the referee said that he never saw the tackle.

“It should have been a red card in my eyes under the new laws and, from a health and safety standpoint, our catcher was taken out twice in the air from kick-offs but again the referee never saw anything.”

The 41-year-old added: “The delay in arriving affected us but we can only blame that for the first try, not the first three, and we missed tackles and our confidence went.

“We started to hit back in the last 20 minutes of the first half and in the second half but then the missed tackles crept in again.

“Grovians had a couple of big runners, a couple of decent props and like to throw the ball around. If you get at them you can stop them playing but not if you don’t tackle.”