With both sides having large groups of vociferous supporters, this close-fought contest turned out to be a lively, entertaining encounter with the lead changing hands several times. Ilkley's bigger and heavier pack looked as though they would dominate the game having the nudge in the scrums, but the determination and energy of the 'Ensians' forwards nullified the weight advantage to enable their side to come out on top in a very tight contest. In a nail-biting finish, the hosts went over for the crucial score in the closing seconds to lift the trophy.
Ilkley took time to settle and the hosts took advantage with half backs Ieuan Cranswick and Kristian Keinhorst sparking off some lively back play. The visitors defended soundly before loose ball was snapped up by Cranswick who put centre Nathan Rogers into space for full back Ben Hatton to link up and go over wide out for a 5 - 0 lead on 10 minutes.
There was an instant response from Ilkley who used good driving play by their hefty pack to take play up to the opposition line. After a few close calls, a trundling maul put Ilkley hooker Andy Merkin over half way our. Full back Peter Shanks made no mistake with the conversion to give the visitors a 7 - 5 lead on 16 minutes. Ilkley continued to press through their pack who again drove up to the 'Ensians' line where, despite dogged tackling from the home back row of Lee O'Donnell, Rob Arbuckle and Sam Featherstone, scrum half Ryan Cooper nipped round the blind to extend the lead to 14 - 5 to the visitors on 23 minutes with another fine conversion from full back Shanks.
The home side then suffered a set-back when the referee produced a yellow card for slowing play down. Both sides were guilty of handling mistakes, but when the visitors transgressed, full back Ben Hatton converted a penalty to narrow Ilkley's lead to 14 - 8 on 27 minutes. Both sides continued to attack with Ilkley using the weight of their forwards and 'Ensians bringing centres Nathan Rogers and Matt Garratt into play. Despite being outweighed, the home pack was proving a handful in the loose and good support play allowed prop Greg Jones to force his way through several defenders to touch down in the corner. The failed conversion left the hosts training 14 - 13 on 35 minutes.
Through their strong-running backs, the visitors again applied pressure in the 'Ensians half and full back Shanks landed a superb penalty 40 yards out to increase his side's lead to 17 - 13 as half time approached. A long kick from fly half Keinhorst took play into the visitors' 22 and, with their defence fragmented, scrum half Cranswick jinked his way through with his unconverted try giving a slender 18 - 17 lead to the hosts.
After the break, the home side brought on fresh legs through lock Simon Hill, hooker Ross Myers and winger Declan Jackson. Also with powerful replacements coming on, the visitors set about the opponents through their strong-running backs, pressuring the 'Ensians line with forwards and backs linking well. When play broke down, once more scrum half Ryan Cooper was there to force his way over with Shanks' conversion putting Ilkley in front again at 24 - 18 on 50 minutes.
Although a further yellow card followed for a late tackle by the home side, the smaller 'Ensians pack were now beginning to make their presence felt. Throughout the game lock Steve Wade produced a faultless performance in the lineout with good support from flanker Sam Feathersone. This supply of possession gave the fiery home forwards chances to produce some good drives which rocked their heavier opponents and forced them to give away penalties. From this pressure, good offloading saw prop Ben Copley dive over in the corner, but the failed conversion still left the visitors in front by one point at 24 - 23 on 71 minutes.
With the clock ticking over, the home pack was now throwing everything at the opposition and when the ball went wide, wingers Declan Jackson and Luke Cowdell were making headway into the visitors' 22. The hosts battered the line with Simon Hill, Ross Myers and Rob Arbuckle held up short. With the Ilkley defence becoming increasingly jittery, the pressure on them became intense, but the home side could not get over the line. From a scrum near the line after a panicky clearance, the hosts changed tack and spun the ball wide for full back Ben Hatton to join the line and go over for the winning try half way out. The conversion by Keinhorst gave the home side a 30 - 24 advantage as the final whistle went.
This closely-fought final was played in a fine spirit with Ilkley through their pack looking likely winners for much of the contest. As time moved on, superb in-your-face rugby by the hosts gradually nullified the weight advantage of the visiting forwards, but, despite this, the visitors chose not to bring their powerful backs more into the game. In the end with a count of five tries to three, 'Ensians came out worthy winners with high energy and ferocious tackling carrying the day.
The Cup and medals were presented to the winners by Aire/Wharfe Chairman John Riley who congratulated 'Ensians on their victory and thanked all the teams who had taken part for making this another successful and popular tournament. The Cup was sponsored by Trevor Smith of Sprayplant.co.uk.
'Ensians round off a successful season with their annual "fun" Seven-a-Sides on Saturday, 4th May with a 1.30 pm start.