Birmingham Solihull 36 Wharfedale 17
Wharfedale were unable to resurrect any of their fine pre-Christmas form in this upset at Damson Park as Birmingham belied their lowly status in claiming a comprehensive victory in a match they had confident charge of from beginning to end.
The hosts were the bigger, more physical side up front and their aggression in the tackle set a marker for the afternoon.
They halted Wharfedale’s early forays, gained supremacy in the set piece with some excellent destructive scrummaging and were effectively disciplined in their ball retention and execution of a tight game plan.
Behind it all, they had the measured boot of Mark Woodrow – returning for his fifth spell with the Bees – to turn the pressure into points, 21 of them in all, including six penalties, as the Greens paid a heavy price for the pressure they were under both in the scrum and at the breakdown.
The other player to profit from the Bees’ solid forward platform was England Sevens star Simon Hunt. The full-back had a telling hand in the try scoring, exploiting lax Wharfedale tackling in crossing twice and creating a third for centre Greg Evans – all of them from first phase use of the ball.
The Greens did manage three tries of their own – two of them outstanding efforts when they did for a brief 10 minutes at the end of the first half get the ball on the front foot and mount an effective pick-and-drive game.
Winger Scott Jordan, collecting a diagonal chip from fly-half Will Bell, left a retreating defence for dead with a beautiful in-and-out swerving run at full pace to score in the corner.
Then Tom Barrett, on as a result of a rib injury sustained by Andy Hodgson, glided through a gap to feed supporting lock Richard Brown, who scored between the posts. Brown, with a fine display of hard-yard ball carrying, was by far the Greens’ most effective performer on the day.
The Bees resumed second-half charge and had the victory well in the bag before the red-card departure of Wharfedale captain Rob Baldwin, eventually giving way to frustration after enduring a period of sustained intimidation.
A final late try for each side – Jordan strolling over for his second – was incidental to a contest long settled in the favour of the home side.
NATIONAL TWO NORTH
Sheffield Tigers 20 Harrogate 7
In a game in which defences held sway, with the forwards cancelling each other out, Tigers had the edge in the backs in windy conditions at Dore Moor to see off Harrogate’s challenge.
Tigers, three places higher than their rivals, made a flying start and went ahead after three minutes when left winger Peter Swatkins raced over for a try which Jonny West converted.
However, within four minutes Harrogate had equalised when centre Samuel Bottomley touched down for a try which stand-off Callum Irvine converted.
But that proved to be the visitors’ only score, Tigers going back in front with a try by full-back Jimmy Pearson.
West missed the conversion, but just on half-time he slotted a penalty in the difficult conditions to give the home side a 15-7 lead.
The only score of the second half was a second try from Swatkins on 62 minutes.
“It was an excellent start to the New Year for us,” said Tigers spokesman Nigel Dakin. “We denied them a losing bonus which was important.”
The result saw Harrogate drop level on points with Kendal, who scored a surprise 18-17 win over higher-placed Stockport.
Caldy 27 Hull Ionians 17
Hull Ionians and Caldy proved equally matched for most of the game but two quick tries after the break without the visitors touching the ball put Caldy in command.
The first half saw both teams testing the diagonal wind with their kicking with Ionians playing slightly into it but gaining better field positions and gaining the first points with a penalty by Dave Marshall.
Caldy at last made ground and made it count with two penalties by Andrew Soutar to lead 6-3 at the break and leave the game wide open but with Ionians having a player in the sin-bin.
Caldy came out fired up knowing they had five more minutes against 14 men and with super ball retention, they made it count.
Recycling it well over 80 metres, they finished with prop Derek Salisbury powering over from close range. It was the same from the restart, No 8 JJ Dickinson touching down, Soutar converting both for a 20-3 lead.
Ionians’ pack slowly took command in the scrums and within the 22 Caldy could not hold them, conceding a penalty try converted by Marshall.
A lone Caldy attack saw a neat loop move send Dickinson in again, Soutar converting.
Ionians’ pack closed out the game in the 22 with Caldy reduced to 13 men through the cynical collapses of the scrums. A second penalty try was converted by Marshall but it was too late.
Loughborough St 33 Otley 18
Although Otley succumbed to the league leaders, player-coach Tom Rock was delighted with a performance that bodes well for the second half of the campaign.
The forwards were under the calming influence of Howard Parr and enjoyed a tremendous display of hard running from No 6 Toby Williams, who constantly broke the defence line to have the Students on the back foot.
Otley’s backs had a tremendous first half but it was probably their adventurous play which cost them the game.
They were ahead within two minutes, creating a turnover from their kick-off, full-back Ollie Denton coming up to race down the touchline, chip ahead and claim a try in the corner.
Chris Georgiou stepped up to convert but the Students were quick to respond, catching Otley with a tap penalty for full-back Craig Holland to score.
A wild pass by Otley when attempting to run out of their 22 fell for fly-half Stuart Hall to cross.
This was compounded by some poor tackling which allowed winger Callum Wilson to make the corner but Otley replied with a fine try from winger Tom Harris only for Georgiou, after a mazy run, to have a pass intercepted for Holland to collect his second try.
Otley got within a couple of points with two fine penalties from Georgiou but despite giving as good as they got in the second half it was the hosts who took their chances with an early penalty from Hall and a try from George Messum, converted by Hall, who added a drop goal to his account.