NATIONAL LEAGUE TWO: Wharfedale 41 Birmingham & Solihull 12
The Bees’ hopes of a rapid return to National One took a sharp knock in the Yorkshire Dales.
If the result was unexpected, the margin of defeat – and a five tries to nil tally – was doubly so.
Consider the events linking this fixture: The Bees beat Blaydon 33-12 last time out, Blaydon having administered a prior hammering to Stourbridge. Last week, Stour put Wharfedale to a seven-try sword. The form-book and logic went missing without trace at the Avenue.
So, how did it happen? To a large extent, Birmingham engineered their own demise. Uncharacteristic defensive errors allowed the home side (smarting from the fall-out from what was a truly awful performance the previous week at Stourbridge) to rack up early confidence-boosting points.
Thus encouraged, they went on to dominate the first half, while the Bees – clearly rocked by the tenacity of the Greens’ challenge – struggled to get a coherent game together.
Wharfedale certainly had the early rub of the green with their first two tries. A high ball was fumbled by full-back Reece Spee, under pressure from home centre Andy Hodgson. It bounced very kindly indeed for winger Dan Hart, who had a clear run-in to the line on 12 minutes. Another defensive howler 12 minutes later allowed centre Mark Bedworth to capitalise on his own speculative kick ahead.
Both tries were converted by Bedworth and, with the Bees’ only reply a 16th-minute penalty by stand-off Mark Woodrow, at 17-3 a shock result was already looking decidedly likely – as much because of the Bees’ disorganisation as the lively performance of the Dalesmen.
Home fans could scarcely believe the evidence of their own eyes as their team – unrecognisable from the disjointed side that crumbled so emphatically at Stourbridge – added two more converted tries – skipper James Doherty on 36 mins, full back Adam Whaites in added time – to clinch a bonus point before the break.
Woodrow’s determined efforts to get his backs moving with purpose foundered against a resolute defence. He converted two penalty chances with his customary accuracy (34 and 38 mins), but they did little to stem the flow. At 34-9 at the interval, the outcome was all but determined.
The Bees made a much better fist of things in the second half. Woodrow’s fourth penalty success (46), and a decidedly more forceful approach by the team as a whole, seemed to offer hope of further damage-limitation.
However, Woodrow’s score was trumped within minutes when home centre Andy Hodgson was deservedly on the score-sheet with Wharfedale’s 5th try – splendidly converted from the touch-line by Bedworth, taking his personal tally to 21 points.
That, somewhat surprisingly with a full half-hour to play, completed the scoring – but not the serious action. The Bees belatedly took the game to Wharfedale. In extended periods of concerted pressure they were close to tries on several occasions.
Two golden opportunities were wasted by wayward final passes – and tigerish tackling by the defenders saw off all else the visitors had to offer.
Wharfedale: A Whaites; D Hart, A Hodgson (S Moon 80), M Bedworth, J Gill; L Gray, J Doherty; P Hall, G Hindle (S Freer 51), C Steel (B Fear 69), O Renton, A Capstick, A Allen, T Cokell (C Howick 65), T Ball (G Jones 70).
Birmingham & Solihull: R Spee; S Hunt, R Connolly, C Mitchell, J Aston; M Woodrow, R Petty (R Tomlinson 79); M Long (A Lawrence 76), B Phillips (T Collett 79), C Voicy, A Davidson, S Pammenter, C Brightwell (R Halavatau 72), J Preece, R Earnshaw (S Brown 28).
Ref: Richard Kelly.