Coach John Walker knew this would be a problem week for player-availability due to injuries and holidays and, despite his best efforts, he was unable to come up with the required four registered front row players which is the requirement for all League matches. This meant that the match against Vandals was classed as a “friendly” with the winning League points being awarded to the Halifax Club automatically, regardless of the final score in the match.
On a warm sunny day - a rarity at Vandals - the ‘Ensians team which took the field contained only seven players with regular first team experience so they knew from the outset they had a mammoth task on their hands against a side second in the table and already promoted. Despite some players playing out of position and others making their first team debuts, they played with spirit and enthusiasm against a solid side full of experience and confidence.
From the kick-off the visitors conceded a turnover and the bulky powerful home pack drove play up to the line. After a series of drives they went over for the first of their tries on 4 minutes. Despite the score being near the touchline, the on-form Vandals kicker converted and he continued to show this form for the rest of the match, missing only one kick all afternoon. The re-start gave the home backs chance to show their paces and powerful running and offloading produced a second try on 8 minutes with the conversion taking the score to 14 – 0.
With scrums being uncontested throughout, this gave both sides chance to move the ball quickly and at last the visitors’ half backs Lewis Robinson and Rob Lofthouse managed to get the ball moving and a good run by centre Josh Howarth took play into the home half for the first time. Unfortunately, turnover ball set the Halifax backs in motion again and good backing-up produced their third try on 20 minutes followed by another on 26 minutes, the conversions taking the score to 28 – 0.
With skipper Sam Featherstone leading the way with good support from newcomer Doug Elgar, ‘Ensians managed to halt the Vandals progress and the ball was switched wide through centres Daz Cooley and Howarth to find Connor Bateman in space. The winger beat two defenders and then went on a weaving run to outpace the cover and score an excellent try from 50 yards against the run of play. Bateman also converted to move the score to 28 – 7 on 30 minutes.
The visitors generally continued to defend well through props Jack Wilkinson and Paddy Phipps with good support from James Smith, Alex Burnett and Michael Cunningham, but attempted high tackles allowed the Vandals centre to weave through for a converted try on 37 minutes to make the half time score 35 – 7.
With a sizeable crowd of supporters willing them on, the hosts were now in full cry, but good covering and solid defence by veteran full-back Dave Smith and winger Connor Paley snuffed out several dangerous moves. John Ratahi and Will Cooper came on to cover for Injuries to fly half Lofthouse and winger Batemen as the power and pace of the home side began to tell. Three further converted tries were scored on 49, 53 and 57 minutes to stretch the lead to 56 – 7.
With prop Paddy Phipps now partnering Howarth in the centre, the visitors mounted a promising attack in the opposition half only to see a delayed pass intercepted by the Vandals winger who raced in from sixty yards. The conversion took the score to 63 – 7 on 65 minutes and the hosts followed this up with an unconverted try on 70 minutes and then the final converted try on 73 minutes to take the score to 75 – 7.
In the closing minute, full back Will Cooper made a good break and linked up with lock Matt Tenniswood who sent centre Daz Cooley away up the wing, unfortunately, with the line only 3 yards away, a last-ditch tackle by the full back drove him into touch for the final whistle.
This was a difficult afternoon for ‘Ensians, but credit must go to the whole team for playing with spirit and determination against a powerful, confident Halifax side buoyed in the knowledge they were already promoted. The youngsters playing first-team rugby for the first time acquitted themselves particularly well.