Wharfedale 13 Blaydon 27 - Greens in need of '˜desire' to pull clear of trouble

ONE of the main reasons Wharfedale are able to celebrate 20 years in English rugby union's third tier, despite their perennial lack of financial clout, is the fighting spirit so traditionally imbued in their sides.

NO WAY THROUGH: Wharfedale's Max Labasse tries to find a gap in the Blaydon line in Saturday's defeat. Picture: Scott Merrylees

That is why the Green Machine has, for so long, punched above its weight, been able to overcome far more illustrious opponents and hold its own in one of the country’s most competitive divisions.

And, let’s just say, they don’t mind doing things their own way. Indeed, as the entertaining – if slightly myopic PA – announced when referencing the Newcastle Falcons’ Premiership players opponents Blaydon had drafted in for Saturday’s crucial contest, “the only falcons we have reside at Malham Cove” referring to that beauty spot’s nesting peregrines.

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However, worryingly – given their present position in National One’s drop zone – Wharfedale’s coach Tommy McGee was forced to question whether this current incarnation had even the spirit or desire to avoid relegation.

In a contest where victory would have seen them pull out of the bottom three sending their opponents the other way, they were 21-8 down by the interval.

Granted, there was an improvement at the start of the second period, when the hosts clearly looked to have been fired up by a blasting from McGee, and their pick-and-drive did begin to click.

However, they failed to capitalise when Blaydon were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes just after the hour, and emerged pointless.

McGee said: “My over-riding emotion is one of being real, real angry; it was not a backs-against-the-wall performance. The game was lost in the first half. We lacked urgency, movement and speed and everything we did in that first half was too, too passive.

“Obviously, with where we are and the severity of this game, the display and particularly the physicality wasn’t good enough.

“You want to see a bare minimum. Okay, you’ll get some stuff wrong in these conditions, but this game was gone by half-time; we coughed up far too much ball, defensively we were far too passive and we weren’t decisive.”

Wharfedale are 15th with only Cinderford, who they visit on Saturday, below them.

They are now six points behind Blaydon in the safety of 13th and have won just once in 10 fixtures but there is, in theory, still plenty of time to rescue their campaign.

The return of captain James Doherty in the next fortnight, should aid their chances. He addressed the players at full-time on Saturday “to lay it on the line”, McGee having already said his piece at the break. On the critical forthcoming Cinderford game, McGee said: “They are all massive. What you want and expect to see, and what we’ll have to demonstrate is – as basic as it sounds – that they are really hungry for it.

“This club hasn’t been in this division for so long without that backs-against-the-wall mentality but we just did not play with the intensity or accuracy we need.”

They were quickly 13-0 down after a couple of penalties from Newcastle fly-half Brett Connon and his conversion to a try from Falcons colleague Will Witty, the robust England Under-20 lock.

Error-ridden ’Dale finally got things right with a rolling maul from 25 metres that resulted in Chris Howick crossing on the half-hour.

The hosts immediately conceded another kicked penalty while in possession, however, Jamie Guy then slotting his own penalty, only for Blaydon No 8 Jason Smithson to smuggle the ball over from a line-out in injury-time.

McGee’s revived side wasted two great opportunities at the start of the second period with poor decision-making, but Guy’s pin-point crossfield kick did see winger Dan Tai finish in the 46th minute for Guy to improve.

Ireland Under-20 international Connon added another penalty but when full-back Rhodri Adamson was yellow-carded for a blatant block on Will Bell, crucially, the ponderous home side still could not add any points, instead, Connon kicking his fifth penalty from the final play of the game.

Wharfedale: Labasse; Fewtrell (Guy 68), Van Sertima, Morgan, Tai; Guy (Bell 53), Woodhead; Steel (Wade 58), Graham (Poole 53), Cano (Beesley 78), Hedgley, Willet (Howick 78), Powell, Burridge, Baldwin.

Blaydon: Adamson; Kibirige, Baggett, Bramwell (Wilson 47),Grimes; Connon, Horsfall (Christie 47); Kalbraier, Guignouard (Beckwith 78), Davison (White 24), Wearmouth, Witty, Laughlin, Chick, Smithson (Archibald 60).

Referee: Jack Makepeace (RFU).