A much changed Lymm line-up was well and truly battered by visitors Ilkley 12-42 on a warm, sunny afternoon at Beechwood and despite heavy rain earlier, a well-forked pitch was playable thanks to the multitude of apprentice volunteer forkers.
A significant change in personnel, due to injury and Grand National distractions, meant a few new faces were in the Lymm squad including the returning hooker Rob Makin, on the bench prop Nick Ashton from long-term injury and debutants James Robinson in the centre and Joe Murphy in the second row.
Having lost to Ilkley earlier in the season Lymm were wary of their hatless opponents and, as it turned out, this was more than justified. However the start of the game gave no indication of what was to come.
A charged down kick in the first minute from the visiting full-back facilitated a kick through by the chasing Lymm pack and, as the defending No 8 fumbled the ball as he tried to field it near his own line, the ball fell fortuitously into second row Matty Connelly’s grateful arms and he simply dived over the try line near the posts. 7-0 following fly half Scott Redfern’s conversion.
If the Ilkley No 8, Johnson, a converted winger, felt he had to make amends he spent the entire game doing so and was outstanding throughout.
Ilkley then applied constant pressure from the re-start, patiently going through the phases, until the left wing crossed wide out on the left. His name was Pat Atkinson according to his mother who this observer was sitting next to at the time. The excellent conversion made it 7-7 after 10 minutes. Lymm threatened the Ilkley line for the next few minutes but could not break through. It would prove to be a costly mistake.
A high tackle from back row Jake Ashall meant 10 minutes in the bin and this handed the momentum to the visitors, who did not need a second invitation. Following constant pressure and a break in the centre, Ilkley scored a well-worked try under the posts. 7-14 after 14 minutes. A poor kick re-start that did not go 10m and gave the visitors a scrum on halfway. Lymm’s continued poor kicking game resulted, once again, in handing the initiative back.
Ilkley’s tails were well and truly up and applied constant pressure going through the phases and refusing to surrender the ball. It was the fly half’s turn to execute which he did with style, for another converted try. 7-21 after 19 minutes.
Ashall returned only for Redfern to be given his marching orders shortly afterwards for knocking the ball forward. Playing 20 minutes of a half with 14 men is not a winning formula against such ruthless opponents. Ilkley, uncharacteristically knocked the ball on with the line at their mercy but mummy’s little soldier Atkinson crossed again after 31 minutes, wide out after good build-up play from Ilkley. 7-28 and Lymm were looking down the barrel! Another kick in to the visitors’ goal line meant a scrum once more on halfway and momentum this time had a little bow on it.
Spectators estimated Ilkley had 80% possession in the first half and following a spectacular line-out and training ground move, the right winger, Josh Hall, fed by No 8 Johnson, crossed this time in the right corner. It is not known if his mother was in the crowd. 7-35 and Ilkley were scoring a point a minute! Lymm tried to build some respectability as the half came to a close to no avail.
We can only speculate about Lymm’s half time team talk but Ilkley had done to the home team what Lymm had been doing to other teams all season and it must have hurt. Lymm attacked down the left and this set up an attacking scrum 5m out. The visitors’ defence was outstanding but eventually back row Adam Bray scored wide out after 44 minutes, 12 – 35.
If a come-back was to happen this would be the start but Ilkley had other ideas. Lymm’s kicking continued to be woeful and Ilkley’s desire to run the ball from deep resulted in the final converted score of the match making it 12 – 42 after 58 minutes. All season Lymm’s defence has been outstanding, averaging only 11 points against them per game, but Ilkley had not read that script and it was their defence which was to prove remarkable as the game moved into the final quarter. Time and again Lymm threatened the visitors’ line and were held up or tackled just short. To compound matters scrum half Andy Davies left the field with an ankle injury which looked and sounded painful.
Lymm, through pride, kept attacking with full back Cormac Nolan moving to scrum half but Lymm struggled to breach the brick wall of a defence they were facing.
One visiting spectator, when asked why Ilkley are only lying eighth in the table, when this performance would have beaten anyone in the league, he modestly replied, ‘We don’t play like this every week. It was just our day today!’
Coach Adam Fletcher, a man of few words, was heard to mention ‘An abysmal first half!’ but that was as much as I could get out of him. Enforced personnel changes both before and during the game played a part in the lack of cohesion for Lymm but Ilkley, and No 8 Johnson in particular, along with the half backs, Maplesden and Morgan, were outstanding and in top form. It was a lesson in how to put your opposition to the sword. We will see if the lesson is learned against Morley at home on Saturday.
Fletcher later added: “We ran into a very hot Ilkley. Even with a full squad and our A game we would have struggled to contain Ilkley in the 1st half. They were outstanding and played with pace, power and flair. On the other hand we were awful, I can’t quite put my finger on it yet and will have to watch the footage to maybe get a better idea.
“The boys did look tired and the lads we had missing definitely didn’t help the cause. My job is to pick the boys up and finish with a maximum 10 points from our last 2 games.”
Team: Gav Woods, Rob Makin, Jordan Widdrington, Joe Watson, Matty Connelly, Jake Ashall, Adam Bray, Oli Higginson, Andy Davies, Scott Redfern, Ali Sutherland, James Robinson, Tom Bray, Joe Denham, Cormac Nolan. Reserves: Joe Murphy, Nick Ashton, Aaron Rashid.