For this pre-season “warm-up” game conditions were grim with the game taking place under gloomy skies with a relentless drizzle. The Yorkshire League 2 visitors held off some determined play by ‘Ensians in the first half, but the hosts ended up trailing by 12 points to 7 at the break. Players on both sides were exchanged at half-time and the visitors’ strong bench enabled them to apply pressure and run in two more tries, leaving the final score at 24 – 7 to the visitors.
In the scrum the home side welcomed the return of powerful prop Simon Hill from Bradford & Bingley who made up the front row with John Offer and Paddy Phipps. In the second row, Jack Smith paired up with Michael Groves to form a formidable front five who took the game to the opposition. Play was mainly confined to mid-field in the initial stages, but to their credit both sets of backs tried to handle in the greasy conditions.
Keighley’s first try came on 20 minutes to give then a 5 – 0 lead, but the hosts responded with some powerful drives from Hill and Rob Arbuckle with good support from flankers Sam Featherstone and Keiron Walker. Eventually the pressure told with Simon Hill blasting his way over. The conversion by winger Josh Howarth gave ‘Ensians a 7 – 5 lead on 35 minutes. Just before the break good support play by Keighley produced another try to regain their lead at 12 - 7.
With wholesale changes on both sides the game lacked organisation and it took a while to settle as the visitors began putting some decent back moves together. ‘Ensians suffered a blow when fly half Ollie Eaves had to go off with an ankle injury with centre Dom Oddy deputising. Kiwi newcomer Chris Westland showed promise on the wing and Will Prest and Michael Philpott tackled hard in the centre.
Keighley gradually enjoyed an edge in possession and territory, but sound tackling by the home forwards and backs kept them out until the 71 minutes when they crossed for a converted try. With darkness falling the visitors ran in another try to make the final score 24 – 7.
Despite the dreadful conditions, both sides attempted to play open rugby and Keighley’s strength in depth told in the end. The changes at half time affected the home side’s momentum, but their forwards showed periods of dominance and, overall, there were encouraging signs for the season ahead, particularly as several regulars are on holiday.