Preview to Wharfedale (A) 29.01.12

26/01/2012

Ilkley Moor, and turn left...

The dogs may play football on Ilkley Moor, but they've no time for such soft southern antics in Wharfedale, 20 miles to the north-west in the Yorkshire Dales.

Rugby is the game of choice in this part of the world, and the local team have a proud record of never having been relegated in the quarter-century since the national leagues were introduced. Sixteen straight seasons at Level Three make Wharfedale the 'Fathers' of National League One, and vastly improved form in the second third of the season makes it likely that they'll be back again on September 1st (the unpopular August start has mercifully been binned).

They'd like nothing more than for a visiting team to get distracted by the history books, or the spectacular Dales scenery surrounding the ground at The Avenue. It's true that there are sheep in surrounding fields, and Jersey have a few Welshmen in the squad, but a few sets of specially-adapted blinkers should prevent any distractions. The game starts at 2pm.

Wharfe's proud home record took a dent at the start of this season, but the fortifications have been rebuilt with four straight wins at The Avenue, and they may have a feeling this isn't a bad time to encounter a Jersey team who have had a tough start to 2012, with some significant injuries and the anticipated tough games against Ealing and Rosslyn Park plus an unexpectedly tight encounter with Cinderford last weekend.

News from the Jersey camp
For all the rigours of January, Jersey remain the form team in National One with 14 straight wins, a run that has included a knack of grinding out tough victories at places like Ealing, Stourbridge and Blaydon.

The Islanders will be without one of the players of the season so far, and leading try scorer with 12, flanker Guy Thompson, following a wrist injury against Cinderford. Leading scorer Mike Le Bourgeois is still out with the hamstring injury sustained in the opening minute against Ealing, along with forwards Jon Brennan and Paul Rodgers.

Otherwise Ben Harvey will hope that the squad facing Wharfedale will be largely similar to those who were on duty against Cinderford. Local knowledge of Yorkshire rugby will be provided by scrum-half Dave McCormack, whose former clubs include county rivals Otley, and who has scored two fine interception tries in his past three outings, including Jersey's final score against Cinderford which ultimately separated the teams in a 17-12 scoreline.

JRFC today (Thursday) confirmed the signing of prop forward James Gethings from Esher RFC. Subject to the completion of registration procedures he is likely to be on the bench for this weekend's game.

After staying overnight at Manchester Airport, Jersey will hope to get the trans-Pennine coach journey out of their system before kick-off, rather than add to a record that has seen nine tries conceded (out of a total of 29) in the first 10 minutes of games this season.

Any previous
Wharfedale came to Jersey on October 8th, at which point the Yorkshiremen had eight league points, just two behind their hosts. The visit was most notable for the size (an estimated 200) and sociability (does one measure that in pints or decibels?) of the 'Green Army' of supporters, who got on very well with their Jersey counterparts once it became clear the invaders weren't from Guernsey.

Sadly for Wharfe they had little to cheer on the field, other than a pacy run by prop Chris Steel which set up a try for winger Simon Horsfall. The solitary score was eventually swamped by the home team who ran in tries by Glenn Bryce (2), Donovan Sanders, Kingley Lang, Le Bourgeois and Thompson to finish 40-5 victors. "Just wait 'til we get you back to ours..." was the defiant statement in the pubs of Jersey that evening, and I don't think they were referring to their rooms at La Place Hotel.

Wharfedale in 2011/12
The loss to Jersey was part of a forgettable start to the season with just two wins from 12 games, however Wharfe have registered excellent form since then, with six further victories from eight starts, including a five-game streak that included 39-5 over Tynedale and 16-10 over Fylde at The Avenue plus notable wins on the road at Cambridge (31-17) and Cov (8-3).

2012 started disappointingly with a loss to Birmingham Bees, but back on home soil the men in green registered a thrilling 31-30 win over Blackheath. Last weekend saw Wharfedale well-beaten at Ealing although they did come close to a bonus point by scoring three tries, two from flanker Dan Solomi plus a penalty try. Final score 43-17.

In terms of personnel, Wharfe have relied on recruiting sensibly, with a sprinkling of young, local talent joining those who've been in the squad for some time. Centre Andy Hodgson has played more than 250 games for the club and supporters will hope to have the 35-year-old, who played Rugby League for Bradford and Wakefield Trinity in the late 90s, back after missing the trip to London. Hodgson's usual partner in the centre is Tom Davidson, scorer of 203 points with his boot (sixth highest in the league) plus three tries in 2010/11 and with 54 points so far this season.

Winger Horsfall has played more than 150 games for the club, and on the other side James Tincknell may feature - Wharfe supporters were heartened to see the winger on the bench for the Ealing game. The 23-year-old suffered serious injuries in a car accident last February, following which he was in a coma for three weeks, and has battled back to resume a career in which he represented Leeds Carnegie in the Premiership last season prior to the accident.

The Wharfedale pack features player-coach Tom McGee in front row contention alongside youngster Joe Altham, the speedy Steel and veteran Neil Dickinson. The back-row is a unit to watch featuring, like Jersey's, a leading try-scorer on the flank in Solomi (11 so far this season), the pace of former England Sevens man Aaron Myers. But there is likely to be a significant absentee at No 8 with skipper Rob Baldwin suspended following a red card against the Bees earlier this month. Richard Brown deputised against Ealing and is likely to do so again.

History of Wharfedale
Founded in 1923, Wharfedale began the league era at level at Level Six in 1987 (apologies for the 64-year gap there, the football-playing dog ate my homework). The 1990s saw them reach National League status in 1994 and then win a championship at Level Four just two seasons later to attain their current status.

In 2009/10 Wharfe had an excellent season, winning the Yorkshire Cup for the first time and finishing sixth in National One. However last season was less successful - after winning four games from their opening five, a disastrous run up to Christmas saw the spectre of relegation loom, only averted in the final game of the season, when a try by former Jersey favourite Talite 'Vee' Vaioleti earning the crucial bonus point against Redruth that kept his club above the trapdoor. The Cornishmen won the game, but were eventually relegated anyway, while Wharfe were able to cancel their final scheduled game, away to Cinderford, having achieved safety with 63 points.

Wharfedale trivia
* Club President John Spencer won 14 caps for England in the 1970s, forming an impressive centre partnership with David Duckham. He is also a leading light in the International Rugby Board
* Former England fly-half/ full-back David Pears, who won four caps for England in the early 1990s, represented Wharfedale in the early 'noughties'
* As well as 'Vee', another former Jersey player to represent Wharfedale is Latu Makaafi, who played in 2009/10 and scored four tries in a drubbing of Manchester in September 2009
* Arguably the club's most extraordinary result was a 36-all draw against Esher in April 2007
* James Tincknell received The Blyth Spirit Award, at the Rugby Players Association dinner in May following his inspiring progress after his life-threatening car crash. The award is a special presentation from the RPA members for outstanding courage in the face of adversity.

Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Wharfedale v Jersey through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, and live updates on Saturday afternoon.
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum (depending on mobile signals from The Avenue)
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon, either just before or just after 4pm depending on how many times the ref stops his watch
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online

And finally
The Weather. It's rare, possibly unprecedented, for Wharfedale to reach the end of January without having lost a game to the weather. But it's not the end of January, and after a wet week the forecast for Yorkshire shows a dip in temperatures in the 24 hours leading up to kick-off. But it is to be hoped this won't be too severe, with frost covers available to protect the pitch and enable the match to proceed as scheduled.

Back in Jersey. The Wilkes Trophy will be contested between Jersey 2nd XV and the Royal Artillery on the front pitch at St Peter starting at 2pm. With free entry, this is a great chance for fans on the Island to see some competitive action, while keeping up with news from Yorkshire through the magic of Twitter.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby... I'm looking forward to it

Tom Innes

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