PGRFC vs Wharfedale

Date: 23 April 2023

Preston Grashoppers 27-12 Wharfedale

……. And so, we come full circle. The season opened in the Yorkshire Dales where we rapidly realised that life in National 2 North was not a walk in the park, as we were soundly beaten by a well-established Wharfedale XV, 57 – 18.

But, since then the squad has grown in depth and confidence, and it was a very differently prepared group of players that took to the field at Lightfoot Green for round two.

The match not only marked the final game of the season but also the retirement of one of Hoppers’ great characters and a stalwart of the club for many years, Oga Mabaya who made his 175th appearance in the White and Blue. To mark this occasion, the team formed a guard of honour for Oga who was named Captain of the side, a fitting mark of respect for a player who has been a role model for any young player throughout his career.

Conditions were far better than forecast as the sun shone and, at least for the first half, it was T shirt order for many.

Wharfedale kicked off and retained control of the ball for much of the opening minutes, probing deep into the Hoppers’ 22 until a penalty kick brought the home side to their opposition’s 22 and a lineout.
The pack drove the visitors and were awarded a penalty on the 5m line. The ball was secured, and hooker Harry Thompson dropped in at the corner. Will Hunt struck the ball cleanly but then had to watch it float past the post but Hoppers were in the lead, 5 – 0.

From the restart, a break by Jacob Browne looked like setting up another score until his run was foiled inside the Hoppers’ half. However, the penalty took them to the Wharfedale 10m line and a lineout. Then the faithful were treated to a swift and joyous display of running rugby as the ball was passed through several hands to reach Jake Maher who, having made good metres, chipped the ball forward and outstripped the opposition to score just wide of the uprights. Hunt was back on track with his conversion and Hoppers moved further ahead, 12 – 0.

The lads then had their tails up as they looked to add to their score. Sadly, the enthusiasm got the better of Harry Swarbrick who was sent to the naughty step for an over-zealous tackle which, he accepted, was somewhat high.

The reduction to fourteen gave Wharfedale the opportunity they needed and their first try came from winger Oscar who crossed in the corner. Fly-half Verity had the same issue as Hunt from wide on the wing and his conversion attempt also failed, 12 – 5.

Unfazed by their visitors’ response, Hoppers regained their composure and passed their way into the Wharfedale half. A kick-pass from Hunt looked to supply Browne on the wing but it went out on the full and play was brought back.

The visitors worked their way to the home 10m line and a scrum, but the ball was stolen, and Browne made another blazing break, hacked on, and was awarded a penalty for his efforts. Play moved on to the Wharfedale 22 and a lineout to the home side which gave them another penalty when Verity was given his marching orders for ten minutes for a more than enthusiastic tackle. Hunt decided to keep the scoreboard ticking over and go for goal, moving the score on to 15 – 5 as the half time whistle sounded and the teams headed for the sheds.

Hoppers had made the best start for some time and Wharfedale looked a little shell-shocked at their inability to counter the pressure that was being forced on them. The had had their moments but had not succeeded in breaking down their hosts’ defence, and it was a very confident Hoppers’ side that restarted play in the second half.

Again, it was Browne initiating the attack with a break into the Wharfedale half. The final pass was knocked on, but from their own scrum, Wharfedale knocked forward and gave possession back to their hosts.

Once again, the ball was moved at speed through several pairs of hands ending in those of Will Riley who darted over in the corner. Hunt was unable to convert, and his attempt again slid past the upright, 20 – 5.

Hoppers were now in full flight and the next wave of attack took them to a lineout on their visitors’ 10m line where another superb passage of rugby had Scott Richardson starting the break before passing to Swarbrick who then fed Browne with Tom Lee in support and the young winger showed real pace as he outstripped the opposition to score in the corner. This time Hunt had adjusted his sights and his conversion kick was on target, 27 – 5.

Despite the impressive lead the home side had built, it was not a surprise that a team with history of playing in this league could come back.

They mounted an attack which had the Hoppers’ defence pinned on their 5m line for over ten minutes and although they manged to break out towards the halfway line, play became scrappy as both teams chased the ball in open play.

Wharfedale retrieved the ball and worked their way back to the 5m line, exerting pressure on the try line again. They were on the point of adding to their tally when a try-saving tackle from Browne held them off. However, after so much pressure, it was inevitable that they would succeed, and their final try, scored by winger Gaudie, was converted by former Hoppers’ player Tom Davidson. With less than ten minutes remaining, the score at the whistle was 27 – 12.

DoR, Alex Keay was happy with the performance and summed up the game and the season:
‘We started the season losing to Wharfedale 57 – 18, and we’ve just beaten them 27 – 12 which, really, was more than a 27 – 12 win, so we’ve just got better as I don’t think they have got any worse!
In the last fifteen minutes that defence set was absolutely superb, we never gave them anywhere to go throughout the game and when we carried, we carried well.

We, as a group are much stronger, mentally as well as physically, and we are in a better place, the good thing is that we can now take that through the summer as we prepare for the new season. It’s good to know that we finished the season with a five-point win against an established National league side.

All the squad have already signed for next season, and we are looking at adding to the list over the summer which will create competition for places and that can only be good.
We have come on through the year and I think we can be happy with where we have finished.’
We certainly can!

The rest of us now have to find other things to occupy our Saturdays until September. A big ‘thank you’ to all of you who have supported the lads, home and away, and helped them achieve a second season in this high-quality league.

And, finally, thank you for putting up with my ramblings for another season, I hope I have managed to convey the story of the squad’s journey over the last eight months as we all look forward to resuming after the summer.

Report by John Le Page, pictures by Mike Craig
Wharfedale 22 April 2023

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