Ilkley 23

Alnwick 7

THE gathering doom and gloom around Stacks Field was lifted on Saturday afternoon as the Dalesmen registered their first win of the season against a side from which nul points had been gleaned the year before.

Ilkley did not look like losing after Chuckie Ramsay’s first penalty sailed over and despite the visitors probably enjoying the greater share of possession, the home defence was generally rock-solid, forcing Alnwick to crab sideways for much of the time.

Skipper Joe Lowes was under parental supervision and the returning flanker had a great game, leading his supporting pack by example.

The pick of the backs was Callum Smithson by a whisker, but as with Lowes, his colleagues in the backs also had fine games.

Early pressure from the visitors yielded an early penalty, but this was pulled wide by Callum Burn.

Five minutes later, a clever kick by Blake Morgan got his side well into the Alnwick 22.

The visitors won the defensive line, but as the tackles went in, referee Tom Boyle awarded Ilkley a penalty for holding on 35 metres out and Ramsay slotted his first.

Alnwick responded well in terms of effort, but failed to make many metres forward.

Ilkley’s cause was not helped by losing a couple of their own lines, but on their next attack, another penalty was awarded and Ramsay obliged again to make it 6-0.

Despite carrying the first aid kit’s full complement of bandaging, scrum-half Morgan was having a fine game, with clever box kicks forcing the visitors back time after time.

Smithson’s one-handed pick-up delighted the somewhat sparse crowd, as did his superlative kick into the Alnwick 22 from deep inside his own half.

J-H Johnson would undoubtedly have scored, but the pass went forward.

On the next attack, Alnwick strayed offside again and Ramsay made it three from three.

Ilkley weathered the rest of the half, though their set-pieces sometimes didn’t inspire confidence and at half-time, the score stood at 9-0 to Ilkley.

Having withstood all that Alnwick could throw at them in the first half, Ilkley could not have wished for a better start to the second.

On their opening attack, Alnwick spilled the ball and Lowes pounced.

Getting quickly back on his feet, the flanker made a good 20 metres before offloading to the supporting Harry Harrison, who scorched in under the posts from 40 metres. Ramsay made it 16-0.

Ten minutes later, with the bit between their teeth, Ilkley’s pack surged forward.

A smart grubber kick by lock Tom Dickinson forced a line in Ilkley’s favour and a clean catch and drive ended with Morgan emerging from the pile up with another try to his name, followed by another conversion to add to Ramsay’s impressive performance – 23-0 and surely out of sight.

Well, not quite, as the next score went Alnwick’s way.

Having finally worked out that their best chance of scoring was to batter away at the Ilkley pack, the visiting Eight did just that and several phases later, Ilkley’s defence got ragged, resulting in a yellow card for Harrison.

Alnwick took full advantage of the disruption and having won a five-metre scrum after the ball was held up over the line, the pressure told and No 8 Ben Gothorp touched down. Callum Burn added the extras and it was 23-7.

Despite some close shaves for each side, the remaining quarter of an hour remained scoreless.

Dan Nota replaced Morgan and acquitted himself well again.

Joe Paton returned after what appeared to have been a comfort break and Johnson made up for a comparatively quiet time on the wing by smashing his opposite man into touch as the latter attempted to counter – normal service resumed then.

The final ten minutes saw Ilkley no doubt following Rhys Morgan’s instructions to manage the game and close it out, which his side achieved and although the try bonus point was not to come, the win was so, so satisfying.

The Dalesmen face the long trip to Wirral this Saturday.

Last season’s result there was possibly the best away win of the campaign and it surely won’t be so easy this time.

However, on the back of this first win, Ilkley should travel with confidence.

It will take time for this side to knit together, but the signs are there and things will only get better.