A beautiful day, an immaculate pitch, albeit with a pronounced slope, and a team that seemed alert and motivated in the warm-up all augured well for a match of exciting running rugby to grace this year’s under-15s Yorkshire Plate Final held at West Park’s Sycamores ground, where the England team prepared for their successful Six Nations campaign.
Wharfedale created the early pressure, and only some desperate tackling kept the try-line intact. James Hanley calmed the early nerves of the spectators with a clearance kick to gain a foothold in Wharfedale’s half. A sharply executed miss-move got John Soanes away on the burst, but just as it looked as though he was through, a last ditch tackle felled him.
Eventually the mounting pressure from the blue and white stripes had a telling effect and Wharfedale conceded a penalty just outside the 22, which Hanley converted.
Wharfedale, playing down the hill and with the wind in their favour, came storming back. Their strong forwards sucked bodies into the rucks and they soon manufactured a three-man overlap to score the opening try in the corner.
The score lifted the Grassington side, and the green tide surged again towards the Pocklington try-line, but ferocious defence on the line held them at bay. The blue and white forwards more than held their own in the scrum against a much heavier pack, even winning a couple against the head. They also matched their opponents at the breakdown, but the ball they won was slow, and the backs never really got the opportunity to move up through the gears.
As the first half drew to a close, Wharfedale snatched a crucial second try as they worked a massive overlap on their right wing to gain a 3-10 lead at the break.
Territorially, the second half was much more even as Pocklington began to take advantage of the slope. Wharfedale conceded a penalty for crossing within Hanley’s range, and he kicked the points to put the Percy Road side in sight of the lead. The greens had other ideas though, as their back row forward skipped through to increase the lead to 6-17.
Then came the first of two incidents that had a telling contribution to the outcome of the match. A loose ball from Wharfedale under pressure was fly-hacked down the slope for Soanes to chase. The referee could not see from where he was whether or not Soanes reached the ball before it went dead, and the distracted touch judge offered no help. The eventual decision of the officials was a scrum to Pocklington five metres out.
The second incident came in the closing minutes of the game. A Wharfedale break seemed to have come to an end as the ball bobbled forward from the tackle, but the referee appeared not to have noticed and allowed the resulting try to stand. In the last move of the match, Charlie Sleigh scored a deserved consolation try with a trademark hand-off as he sprinted clear.
All in all, the best team won on the day. Even so, Pocklington acquitted themselves well, both on and off the pitch, and we can only hope that this experience has whetted the players’ appetites for another final next year.