As predicted, no less than three matches this weekend - a veritable rugby marathon. While the weather was no more than warm at any point it was at least brighter, perhaps a tad too bright on Sunday. Still, ickledot had no right to complain, given recent grumblings about a winter of dull greyness.
First up was Harrogate on Saturday. While their season in National Two has been somewhat mixed, things have picked up in recent weeks and they were chasing their third win in a row. The opposition was Broadstreet, second from bottom in the league so home hopes must have been high. However, as often happens, Broadstreet were up for a fight and clearly keen to fly in the face of league form. Harrogate began well, playing open rugby - too often though promising moves came to nothing as handling errors led to some frustration. Some moves did come off though and it was Noel Minikin (above, brother of Lewis, previously seen in this blog playing for Yorkshire U20s at Twickenham a couple of seasons ago, receiving the pass from Callum Irvine) who ran through to score under the posts.
Although the win did come in the end, the margin of 23-15 being quite respectable from a home standpoint, play remained a tad stop-start and Broadstreet deserved their two tries. You can read a much more knowledgeable account of the game on the Harrogate website. Just chosen a couple of favourite pictures from the game, the first is that moment or two of preparation before a scrum. There's so much effort involved, you need to be ready and this shot maybe show the self psyching going on. The second is the moment after Harrogate captain Jake Brady touched down. The try's been given but you can see the Broadstreet player on the ground perhaps indicating he thought the ball wasn't on or over the line. Nice also to have the crowd above, looking down from outside the clubhouse. There are more shots from the game here.
Sunday's early morning sky was bright blue and the sun shone down on Selby Rugby Club, the venue for two games. The first was the club's Colts side, playing in the semi-final of their national championship, against Bishop Stortford. It was clear from the start that the Essex side were strong, formidable opponents. When they went over for a try in the first few minutes, many in the sizeable crowd must have feared the worst. However, the home side fought gallantly and managed to avoid conceding any further points during the rest of the first half. The second half was a different story though and Bishops Stortford scored a couple of quick tries. By the time Selby began to mount a series of attacks themselves, culminating in a push over try, it was too late. Although the game was lost, Selby's players, coaches and home spectators must have gained some consolation in the effort and resistance displayed by their team. Well done to Bishop Stortford also. Again, there's a detailed account of the game on the Selby website. Selby had to do a lot of tackling and defending during the game but below is a favourite shot where they had a bit of possession. Really like the expression on the ball carrier's face and the shout of encouragement from behind. The second shot shows the work of the Bishop Stortford scrum half. He's passed back, perhaps hoping the ball reaches his team mate before the determined Selby player on the right can intercept. More pictures here.
Next came Yorkshire U20, playing in their own national semi-final, the third in as many years, this time against Hertfordshire. It was great to see so many of the Selby crowd remaining for this game. They were not disappointed. As has become their way, Yorkshire began aggressively, giving their opponents no time or opportunity to settle.
With this approach came points, firstly with the boot of Chris Bell and then with a strong push finished off by Jonny Coser (above - and in the Harrogate scrum picture - two games in two days!), his smile just visible amid the chaos of legs and bodies. This brought confidence and further tries followed, giving Yorkshire a significant lead by the break, despite Hertfordshire notching a try of their own.
Although more Yorkshire points came in the second half (one above about to be scored, I think, by Ralph Wellock, encouraged by Sam Gaudie), Hertfordshire were not done and their two tries could perhaps have brought worry were it not so close to the end of the game. The final score was 37-19 and Yorkshire are back at Twickenham once more - the third time in three years. And ickledot will be there too, also for the third occasion in three years. You can see more semi-final pics here.