With a mounting injury list, the hosts knew that with Wensleydale battling to move out of the relegation zone they were in for a tough afternoon. Facing the breeze, ‘Ensians defended well as the visitors dominated possession through their heavier pack and solid lineout, but things looked encouraging when they held the score to a solitary 3 – 0 penalty up to 27 minutes. Wensleydale then capitalised on the superiority of its pack by setting up three tries in the final quarter of the first half and four more after the break. Although the home side rallied with a try in the first half and two in the second, the result was a comprehensive victory for the visitors.
From the kick-off Wensleydale went into the attack as their powerful forwards drove down the field into the home 22 where they camped near the home line and it was some five minutes before the hosts managed to get their hands on the ball. Young half backs Lewis Robinson and Will Cooper managed to get their back line moving with winger Will Howarth showing his potential with a promising run out of defence.
In the scrums the hosts were on the back foot as their lighter pack struggled and untidy slow ball meant that their backs made little progress against a well-organised Wensleydale defence. For the hosts centre Luke Cowdell made a good break, but the final pass went astray. Good offloading and backing up by the visitors then took play into the home 22 where forward pressure produced two tries on 30 and 34 minutes. With neither being converted, Wensleydale now had a 13 – 0 lead as the hosts lived on scraps of possession.
In a rare incursion into opposition territory, ‘Ensians worked the left flank and good support play put lock Matt Tenniswood over in the corner. The conversion failed leaving the home side trailing 13 – 5 on 37 minutes. Just as things began to look a bit brighter, the hosts then faced another setback as leading try-scorer Connor Bateman was subject to an illegal “tip-tackle” which the referee failed to spot and which led to the full back having to leave the field with a serious shoulder injury. Connor Paley came on as an able deputy at full back.
Unfortunately, disorganised defence then allowed Wensleydale to come straight back with strong running and good offloading by both forwards and backs to run in another try to take their advantage to 18 – 5 as the half time whistle went. With the breeze in their favour, there was still some optimism that ‘Ensians might turn things round in the second half. The visitors had other ideas and, with their tails still up, they ran in three more tries on 44, 50 and 60 minutes with two conversions stretching their lead to 37 -5.
Somewhat belatedly, ‘Ensians now sprang to life using good lineout ball from No 8 Sam Featherstone and flanker Jack Wilkinson and the scrum steadied with replacement Ross Nichols making his presence felt. Strong runs by centres Cowdell and Chris Westland took play into the visitors’ 22 where re-cycled ball was moved wide and again lock Tenniswood was on hand to go over wide out for his second try. Speedy winger Will Howarth was put away on the left, but after rounding his opposite number the touch flag went up as he headed for the line. Enterprising play continued with Howarth on hand to nip through a gap to score as the home side exerted pressure in the visitors’ 22. The conversion by fly half Will Cooper moved the score to 37 – 17 in the visitors’ favour, leaving the hosts still with plenty to do.
The chance of a bonus points spurred on the home side, but penalty offences and wrong options allowed Wensleydale to take play into ‘Ensians’ 22. As the hosts were running the ball out of defence, a dropped pass gave possession away producing more pressure on the home line. To make things worse a yellow card was awarded for a high tackle and, as the defence re-grouped, the visitors ran in another try to take the final score to 42 – 17.
With a much-weakened side, the hosts were always going to be up against it, but they didn’t help themselves by careless handling and their normally strong defence was too often found wanting. They produced periods of decent rugby in the second half, but could not sustain it. ‘Ensians now hope that the New Year will bring some easement of their injury woes.