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Doing it the hard way seems to be Ilkley's mantra
Barnsley 19, Ilkley 23
It has been a good 15 years since Ilkley last played at Barnsley and, despite the home side’s lowly position in SSE Yorkshire Division One, they came close to wrecking Ilkley’s game-plan and pulling off an unlikely victory.
As it was though, Ilkley once again played badly and won.
This really should have been a bonus-point win but Ilkley’s usual torpor, together with Barnsley’s never-say-die attitude, made for an encounter that turned out to be closer than it should have been.
Ilkley conceded no fewer than five penalties for offside in the backs, four ably converted by Barnsley’s Greg Colbridge, whose first strike was his only miss of the afternoon.
The visitors were at times terrific, mesmerising Barnsley with some great rugby, both in the forwards and the backs.
But Ilkley simply seem unable to put a match to bed, and instead have a tendency to panic – missed tackles, poor decision-making and third-XV quality rugby gifting their limited opponents one opportunity after another to square the match.
Barnsley were 6-0 up when Ilkley decided to up their game.
They then looked very impressive, taking the game to their hosts and winning the two penalties that Mike Cacchia converted effortlessly to level the scores.
Then followed Ilkley’s best period, when a sparkling move involving half the team lead to a third Cacchia penalty, giving them a lead that was never lost.
Shortly afterwards, JH Johnstone made amends for a knock-on on the line with a sublime try, taking a flat pass and beating the defence with a typical heads-down charge to cross close enough to make Cacchia’s conversion a formality.
Ilkley were 16-9 to the good at half-time but generously conceded an early penalty that brought the score to 16-12.
However, from the kick-off, Tuli Makaafi’s charge down of a Barnsley clearance kick led to his collecting the rebound and touching down close to the flag.
Cacchia’s great conversion should have put the game out of sight at 23-9 – but this is Ilkley!
Barnsley stormed back and were unfortunate not to score when an attacking knock-on by Ilkley was hacked through by the Barnsley winger, only for the resulting chip to drift over the very short dead-ball line.
The last quarter of the game opened with another penalty for Colbridge and a great break from defence featuring Makaafi and Cacchia.
This ended with a yellow card for Barnsley No 5 Norris for illegal use of the shoulder in the tackle. Eschewing a kick at goal, Ilkley then saw Barnsley start an audacious move from behind their own goal.
A full 90 metres later, the move broke down with a knock-on and Ilkley were riding their luck.
With five minutes remaining, Ilkley were defending with no little desperation and then Nick Brook hacked a loose ball straight into the arms of Colbridge.
Moments later, replacement Ben Wilson outpaced a very outnumbered Ilkley back-line to score a thoroughly-deserved try, converted by Colbridge to give the home side a well-earned bonus point.
Mercifully for the many Ilkley followers, Barnsley ran out of time and the match petered out with Ilkley’s 23-19 lead intact.
Ilkley badly missed some nous in the back row, with Ollie Renton’s absence being particularly felt.
The scrum isn’t bossing as it did last season, and while the backs are in general are a much-improved unit compared with last season, the central defence was poor.
Nick Brook’s return is important, and with Ben Fear available again, perhaps Ilkley’s pack can start to re-assert itself.
At full strength, Ilkley could win this league. Whether the club would wish to is another thought.
Next week sees a return to Corporate Leisurewear Yorkshire Shield action, with a trip to Castleford. Twick-enham again anyone?.