On a grey damp day, ’Ensians travelled to take on a Halifax side who have yet to register a victory this season. As sometimes happens, once the home side had settled, they produced some quality rugby to bely their lowly position in the League table. They withstood early pressure from the visitors and then, using the slope and the wind, they spent much of the first half troubling ‘Ensians in their own 22 through the efforts of their useful pack. They took a 7 – 0 lead through some good work by their forwards. For their part the visitors saw little of the ball in the first half, but then came out on top in the second period through their open style of play as the home side tired.
The visitors opened brightly up the slope and pressured the hosts in their own 22. A good dummy and break by young prop Dan McCabe saw him pulled down just short of the line and then half backs Rob Lofhouse and Kristian Keinhorst moved the ball wide at every opportunity. Unfortunately, resolute defence and poor handling meant that several moves came to nothing as the supply of ball started to dry up.
Skipper Sam Featherstone gave his usual sound performance in the lineouts, but in the scrums ‘Ensians began to struggle as the heavier Halifax pack began to dominate. Their strong-running No 8 set up several moves with good support from his fly half and suddenly the visitors found themselves on the back foot in their own 22. They defended well for long periods, but they were being pushed in the scrums and scrum half Rob Lofthouse had a torrid time dealing with untidy ball. The home side was held up over the line, but after more pressure from their forwards, the No 8 drove through under the posts for a converted try to give them a 7 – 0 lead on 34 minutes.
The visitors responded with some good driving play from hooker John Offer, lock Ross Nichols and flanker Jack Wilkinson and their backs got away up the slope. Centre Chris Westland made good ground and winger Conor Bateman came close, but the home defence held as the whistle went for half time.
At the break, Rob Arbuckle came on in the forwards to add his experience and immediately the visitors’ scrum steadied enabling the speedy ‘Ensians backs to show their paces. A good run down the right by Bateman was backed up by prop Paddy Phipps and Sam Featherstone. After good off-loading by both forwards and backs, flanker Luke Cowdell cut through to score halfway out on 50 minutes. Although the conversion failed the visitors were now very much back in the game at 7 – 5 and from the re-start the ‘Ensians backs swept downfield as the home defence struggled to cope. Again Bateman was on hand to weave his way through to score under the posts. His own conversion gave the visitors as 12 – 7 lead on 55 minutes.
It was now dominance for the visitors as the hosts struggled to cope with the pace and slick handling of the visiting backs. Good forward support from the bustling Arbuckle and lock Stuart Wright put prop Dan McCabe over near the posts on 62 minutes and Bateman was rewarded with his second try as he swerved his way through from 30 metres on 64 minutes. One conversion by Bateman lifted the score to 24 – 7. The visitors then took the foot off the pedal as a penalty took Halifax on a rare visit into the ‘Ensians’ half where another penalty was quickly tapped allowing the home side to run through a disorganised defence to score near the posts. The conversion took the score to 24 – 14 on 72 minutes.
The visitors woke up and went back on the attack where, after pressure in the home 22, Sam Featherstone was rewarded with a try as he dashed through under the posts on 76 minutes to make the score 31 – 14 to the visitors. This was a welcome bonus-point win for ‘Ensians, but there will be concern at the shortage of ball in the first half and the chances missed through indifferent handling during various promising attacking moves.