OAs edge Wharfedale

OAs' Oliver Cooper-Miller vs Wharfedale

OAs' Oliver Cooper-Miller vs Wharfedale - Credit: Archant

It must be something to do with the clear Northern air, writes Brian Quinn.

Nothing else can really explain how Albanians, for the third time this season, have been able to play a ‘get out of jail card’ two hundred miles from home.

The result at Fylde came from solid endeavour and sound, if desperate, defence in the final moments. The single point ‘triumph’ at Sedgley Park was fortuitous. Last Saturday’s performance had something of the miracle about it and Wharfedale supporters can be forgiven if they now believe the Gods have forsaken them.

In the first fixture between the clubs last October there was a twelve minute spell in which James Shanahan’s side produced their best attacking rugby of the season. Three sparkling tries, twenty one points resulted. Shanner’s injury at this time coincided with a magnificent Wharfedale revival which earned them a 27-27 draw so A’s were well aware of their hosts’ capabilities. Their win over Cinderford the previous week would have emphasised the task facing the visitors.

Yet the disparity between the sides, especially in midfield was so marked in the first half that both sets of supporters expected a deluge of points for ‘The Green Machine’. No less than four times a combination of Phil Woodhead, Tom Barrett and Joe Donkin tore effortlessly through a despairing A’s defence and headed for the line. Each break was thwarted by simple mistakes as, somehow, the final pass refused to stick or possession was knocked forward in the heavy conditions.

Barrett departed the fray with an injury just into the second quarter but, for the moment, this did not seem to upset his side’s efforts.

It has to be said that the incredible work of open-side Rob Fahrenheim and his back row colleagues was instrumental in ensuring Wharfedale possession was disrupted sufficiently for there not to be twice as many scoring opportunities for their opponents in this first period. Incredibly it was 0-0 at half time.

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The stalemate didn’t last much longer. Two minutes after the restart, and with his side now attacking the favoured ‘River end’, Chris Georgiou released Peter Lucock in the Albanian 22 and he strolled to the line unmolested. Georgiou added the extras from half way out on the left.

This, finally, provided the wake-up call for the visitors whose sterling back row first half performance was now emulated particularly by Lloyd Bickle and Ollie Cooper-Millar. Their possession at the lineout and probing runs brought their team onto the front foot for the first time and the territorial battle started to even out. Seven minutes into the half Richard Gregg reduced the deficit with a well struck penalty.

The match now entered a period of attrition as A’s competed more successfully for possession and position. With half an hour left inspirational Wharfedale scrum half Woodhead was replaced by James Gough and ten minutes later James Speirs and Lawrence Rayner came on for Daniel Holmes and fullback Gregg in the Albanian backline.

Gradually A’s moved forward but it was Gough who provided the visitors with their next opportunity when he was sent to the bin for preventing release of the ball close to his own line with thirteen minutes left. Just three minutes later, with Albanians pressing hard Chris Lombaard found the gap in the stretched Green defence. Rayner’s conversion attempt drifted just wide of the left upright but his side now led for the first time in the afternoon.

Then with four minutes to go and after another incisive OA thrust in left field Stefan Liebenberg sold one of his trademark dummies and stole over from close range on the right of the posts. Rayner found his range this time.

Wharfedale’s last flourish brought play back into the Albanian 22 and with the final whistle pending Daniel Solomi crossed on the left, too far out for Georgiou’s conversion attempt.

This was the first game in what Shanners has called a ‘tricky’ end of season run. It continues next Saturday at Cinderford with a kickoff 2.30pm