‘Ensians’ prospects of completing the “double” over Castleford were dashed when their already injury-affected squad of players was further depleted by yet more injuries and unavailability. Two stalwarts from the 2nd XV stepped up to the plate at the last minute in the form of the Tenniswood brothers - Brett and Matt. For both brothers it was many years since they donned 1st XV shirts, but despite their advancing years, they both got stuck in throughout the match. ‘Ensians Colt Lewis Exley also made a lively debut.
On a firm surface with a cold wind the hosts were the first to gain ground through their substantial pack with some solid driving into the visitors’ 22. An infringement gave them a 3 – 0 advantage from a penalty after only 2 minutes. Despite being outweighed by over a stone a man, the visiting pack with their superior technique managed to get a good drive on and from loose play flanker Keiron Walker made inroads into the home 22.
Cas knocked on and from a scrum 5 metres out the front row of Josh Dyson, Rob Arbuckle and Toby Keep led the way with a drive towards the line with No. 8 Sam Featherstone skilfully controlling the ball for the touchdown. Full back Connor Bateman converted to give the visitors a 7 – 3 lead on 13 minutes.
Half backs Rob Lofthouse and Will Cooper moved the ball wide at every opportunity to try and run the heavier home pack around and create space. Connor Bateman joined the line and broke away, but with the cover hot on his heels, he chipped ahead for winger Connor Paley, but the scrambled home defence saved the day.
As half time approached, the home side stepped up their efforts through some powerful driving from their pack. The referee yellow-carded ‘Ensians for reasons difficult to fathom and Cas took advantage and managed to drive over in the corner for an unconverted try. They then followed this up with a penalty to take the half time score to 11 – 7 in their favour.
From the re-start slick passing from the visitors and strong runs from centres Luke Cowdell and Nathan Jones took play into the Castleford 22. The ball moved from left to right and back where prop Josh Dyson and lock Jay Walsh linked up with flanker Dougie Elgar who went over halfway out. Bateman’s conversion regained a 14 - 11 lead for ‘Ensians. The pace of the game seemed to be taking its toll on the heavier opposition pack, but their slow arrival at the set pieces and frequent discussions with the referee seemed to allow opportunities for a “breather” to slow the game down, which frustrated the visitors.
On 60 minutes a penalty to the corner gave the home side a chance to mount a strong drive resulting in a try. The conversion attempt failed but the hosts were now back in the lead with a 16 – 14 advantage. Play was now mainly confined to midfield as the Cas forwards drove relentlessly at the visitors but determined defence from the ‘Ensians back row with good support from Jay Walsh, Toby Keep and Rob Arbuckle stemmed the flow. Loose ball was snapped up by the visiting backs and after winger Lewis Exley moved the ball, he was caught by a late tackle. The referee appeared unsighted, so no penalty was awarded. Lewis was shaken up and stayed off the field for the remaining ten minutes of the game where he appeared to recover well.
With the clock ticking, speedy handling put Ensians backs away up the left flank and again Connor Bateman was through in space with only the full back to beat. Unfortunately, his chip ahead was gathered by the home full back who evaded attempted cover tackles and raced down the touchline to score near the corner. The conversion stretched the home side’s lead to 23 – 14 on 78 minutes.
From the re-start, and to make matters worse, an ‘Ensians’ clearance kick was charged down and gathered by a big forward who trundled his way to the line. The failed conversion left the final score at 28 – 14 in favour of the hosts.
Considering the makeshift nature of their team, this was a good all-round effort by ‘Ensians who saw their plans to move the ball swiftly at every opportunity gradually thwarted by a general slowing down of play. They worked hard in defence all afternoon, competed until the final whistle and were unlucky to go down by a score which flattered the opposition.