Trees secured a precious spot in the Yorkshire Shield semi-final, scoring five lovely tries against a solid local team who stuck at it until the end. The bright and breezy weather that ranged from snow to sunny spells did little to stifle both teams offensive intentions, but the recent rains made the pitch boggy, and players found themselves caked in mud after approximately 22 seconds into the game.
Like any good ol’ Diesel engine, Trees took twenty minutes to warm up. During that time, the local boys scored a converted try and a penalty, eventually leading by ten points. Crippled by penalties, the visitors had a hard time keeping hold of the pill, and as skipper Ryan Roodt astutely observed, “we can’t score if we haven’t got the ball.” Galvanised by such wise and insightful words, Trees rallied up and focused their efforts on putting more structure in their game. Phase after phase, Trees inched back into Knaresborough’s half. On Saturday again, set pieces were instrumental in trumpeting a wake-up call: in particular, the scrum, propelled forward by, according to venerable lock Greg Neill, “the best-looking second row I’ve seen in a long time,” provided a sturdy platform for the vivacious no. 8 Ryan Roodt, to spring out from the back of said scrum 10 metres away from the hosts’ try line and aggressively carry the ball into the try zone, scoring Rowntree’s first points of the afternoon (5-10). Unfortunately, sign of the physicality of the game, outside centre Ali O’Gara had to leave the field to go clean his new white boots, and secondarily nurse an injured shoulder. Finally upping their game, the visitors began spending more time ball in hand, even though the gusty conditions were not particularly conducive to champagne rugby, the back line managed to showcase side-steps here and there, some precise off-loads, some sexy footwork, and, most importantly, great support play. At the end of one of these moves, demi d’ouverture du jour Mick Welsh touched down in the far left corner of the field (10-10). Average age of try scorers so far in the afternoon: 67 years old.
After the customary half-time rest, a few snow flakes dusted the pitch, but the festivities resumed as fiercely as before. Despite mud reaching players’ ankles and boots dragging their weight in mud, powerful carries were seen: the ever-dangerous Ryan Roodt broke the line several times in the second half. One of these runs ended two metres from the locals’ try line, but a dynamic Rhys Carlyle had followed the action closely and, seizing the offload, vigorously powered through the last few yards into promised land. Full-back Jack Daniels’ boot did not tremble and added two points (10-17). For a while the two teams battled bitterly in the middle of the park, seeking to re-enact the offensive of the Somme, with neither side willing to give even an inch. Finally, as the hostilities were drawing to a close, inside centre Zak Hardy found himself at the conclusion of a series of phases, and, carrying the last defenders with him, marched over the try line, scoring Trees’ fourth try. Daniels kindly added the conversion (10-24). With minutes to play, the hosts’ restart kick ended in Dave White’s hands. White, officiating on the right wing, accelerated amidst a flurry of players and managed to offload to his compadre Hardy, who altruistically found prop Ryan Corker in support. The latter run with surprising velocity for the last twenty metres (!!) and scored between the posts. Now, I know it does not sound realistic, however, as Corker explained after the game, the combined effect of the gale blowing at his back and the momentum he had built propelled him effortlessly – one would almost say elegantly – beyond the whitewash, sealing this game with a try (10-29).
After this satisfactory game, which secures Rowntree’s spot on the top of the Shield table, players will now focus on training before a fixture against York 3rds next week on Shipton Road.
Tries: R. Roodt; M. Welsh; R. Carlyle; Z. Hardy; R. Corker.
Conversions: J. Daniels (2).
Squad: C. Lynch-Smith; R. Corker; G. Churchill; L. Ballantyne; G. Neill; B. Cox; R. Carlyle; R. Roodt (C); R. Cames; M. Welsh; J. Smith; Z. Hardy; A. O’Gara; D. White; M. Thomas.
Finishers: M. Ford; H. Smith; J. Daniels.