Cleckheaton 25-17 Bees
By Benji Pickin
Bees rue missed chances in defeat
BOTH teams were happy that they gave improved performances on their heavy opening-day defeats in this North One East derby.
Cleckheaton, watched by their cricketers after their game was called off, bossed affairs for the first hour on a day when a wet ball caused handling problems but Bradford & Bingley were frustrated that they didn’t win as they dominated the last quarter.
“We blew five clear-cut chances,” said Bees flanker Ali MacDonald, “and given another five or ten minutes we would have snatched it.
“It was just a matter of getting the right angles but it was an improvement on the previous week and things are coming together no doubt.”
Meanwhile, Cleckheaton’s head coach Thiu Barnard was a proud man after seeing his side bounce back from a 56-5 drubbing at Malton & Norton.“Our defence got tested in the second half here and we held out,” said the South African, “but they profited from our errors. “It was a good test of our character and we came through it as they are a good side.
“Brad Marsden was outstanding in the line-out, winning our ball and taking half of theirs. I am really proud of my team.”
Before the match kicked off, there was a minute’s silence for Max Blakeley, the Cleckheaton RUFC player who died playing rugby league for Birkenshaw Bluedogs over the summer.
Bradford & Bingley, who at least picked up a four-try bonus point in their 53-33 home defeat by Scarborough in week one, started the derby by showing some decent continuity, although they knocked on after winning the game’s first penalty.
Cleckheaton then showed their clinicalness by taking their initial opportunity in the eighth minute in the left-hand corner via hooker James Crowther, although Mike Swetman’s conversion went across the face of the posts.
Home scrum half Jack Bickerdike was his usual livewire self and broke through in centrefield four minutes later, but the attack ended with them being penalised.
An even bigger gap in the visitors’ defence was exploited in the 20th minute by centre Swetman, who threatened to retire during last season. Persuaded to carry on by his form in the second half of the 2017-18 season, he ran in from distance through some paper-thin tackling after the Bees had lost their own line-out.
Fly half Bob Dearing added the conversion to give Cleckheaton a 12-0 lead, but the visitors missed a decent chance to get on the scoreboard themselves three minutes later when fly half Lance Taylor was wide with a kickable penalty.
The visitors, who tended to try and run the ball out of their 22 rather than employing the kick – something that Cleckheaton weren’t so guilty of in the second half – were playing a brand of rugby that was too frantic for the conditions, and their cause wasn’t helped when skipper Tom Booth was yellow carded in the 32nd minute, with Dearing landing the subsequent penalty to make it 15-0.
With Cleckheaton prop Tim Mobbs receiving treatment for a head injury in midfield, the visitors finally had some points to cheer when Taylor knocked over a 36th-minute penalty.
But nearing half-time, Bickerdike found no-one on guard on the blindside scooted down the left touchline from 35 metres out to score, having enough time to run behind the posts.
Dearing surprisingly missed the conversion, but Cleckheaton didn’t have to wait too long to add to their 20-3 half-time advantage, however, as left winger Keiran Downs went over two minutes into the second half.
Dearing again missed the extra points, however, and the next ten minutes were largely taken up by referee Kristian Garland (Central Yorkshire Society) trying to keep control.
He twice had to halt play to talk to respective skippers Booth and Matt Piper, the second occasion coming after a brawl near the home 22.
Little that Bees centre James Morton tried during the match came off, particularly his offloads in the first half, but perhaps the catalyst for Bradford & Bingley’s revival came with the sin-binning of Cleckheaton flanker Joey Carley in the 55th minute.
While he was off the pitch, the visitors hit back with a try nine minutes later by their man of the match Tom Johnson, with the conversion being added by Taylor.
Croatian second row Ante Majic then could not hold onto the ball with the line begging in the 71st minute, but four minutes later prop Alex Keeton reached out to score, with Taylor’s conversion bringing the Bees both into losing bonus-point territory and match-winning territory.
Cleckheaton, who lost Carley injured soon after he came back on, seemed ready to be taken out but a combination of solid defence and Bees profligacy – for example Taylor dropped the ball with the line at his mercy in injury time – meant that the hosts survived.
The hosts, who have made fewer close-season changes, are undoubtedly closer to being the finished article, while the Bees are still finding their feet under coaches Antony Posa and High Gumbs but have the potential to be destructive.
Article from the Telegraph and Argus