Saturday 12th. May 2018
North 1 Play off
Driffield 21 – 24 Wilmslow
The unbridled joy of the Wolves players and their large contingent of travelling support at the conclusion of this promotion decider was matched only by the utter desolation of their Driffield opponents who had conspired to allow a winning position to be wrestled from their grasp by conceding not just once but twice in what elsewhere is known as 'Fergie Time'. Wherever you looked prostrate Driffield players were picking themselves up from the ground and shaking their heads in disbelief. For them it must have been a horrible few moments.
Just a minute or two earlier, the Wolves had looked all but down and out as they hauled down Driffield's right winger well inside their own half of the field and although they managed to turn over possession, there was still a long way to go. But these Wolves must be amongst the great escapologists, they never give up and they never throw in the towel. Just as they had done at Northwich in March and then three weeks ago at Carlisle, they put together the phases and the passing with just about everybody contributing to eventually send flanker Seb Pemberton through the remnants of a shredded Driffield defence.
You would have needed television cameras to piece together every nuance of the play. Many of us looking on would then have backed Bob MacCallum to tie it all up with his conversion but it was from far out and came off an upright on the wrong side. The Wolves were still 21 – 19 in arrears and would have to do it all again if there was sufficient time still on the clock. A clean take of the restart was followed by the pack taking it on down the field, picking and driving faultlessly, then spinning it along the line, where it opened up on the right for James Coulthurst. Never can Coulthurst have run harder and faster than he did in this last gasp of the game to secure the winning touchdown. From the dark ashes of defeat, the Wolves had dragged themselves to the sun lit land beyond. For as long as rugby is played at Wilmslow's Memorial Ground, this will surely be amongst the annals of the club's greatest moments.
This game had been awaited with considerable interest and anticipation in both Driffield and Wilmslow. Neither club had ever contested a North 1 Play off and even less played level 5 rugby. Nor had the two clubs ever met before. Driffield's compact and attractively laid out ground at Kelleythorpe about a mile from the town centre was buzzing when the Wolves arrived – without their kit, would you believe, forgotten and left behind in the Wilmslow changings rooms.
Fortunately, their Driffield hosts didn't want the afternoon spoilt by a technicality such as this and graciously lent their reserve kit to Rick Jones' men. The ground was packed all round, people leaning up against the railings and on the far side standing on an elevated bank. The pitch looked grassy and in fine fettle. It was all very agreeable. A section of the crowd cheered the emergence of the Wolves from the changing rooms in the red and black 'newitts' sponsored jerseys, mistakenly believing them for a moment or two to be the Driffield team. There was a rather larger cheer when the real Driffield made their appearance in what I presume to be their normal black and white home strip. Meanwhile, Wilmslow people had to quickly work out which of the two sides was theirs. Clearly, the Wilmslow committee should now debate the need to appoint an honorary bag man, as they certainly wouldn't want to pay for a professional one.
The opening thrusts were in the Wilmslow half but after ten minutes or so they worked a position in Driffield territory and started to take the game to the opposition. May be they weren't quite at their best ormost fluid or was it that the well organised Driffield defence didn't allow them to be. Several moves broke down, the tackling was fierce but fair, except for the occasional unintended high-ish tackle. Sean Street tried a typical dart from a penalty and then from another penalty MacCallum set up a catch and drive position. Adam Hewitt and Seb Pemberton were taking all their ball authoratively and although the initial drive was stopped, the pack came again and this time prop Jordan Ayrey burrowed his way through the bodies for a try converted by MacCallum.
The Wolves, although disrupted by a series of injuries which were keeping Phil the physio busy, were still looking the more likely until the home side built a series of phases from an attacking scrum. They created space out wide and then had room to release their lock James Dinsdale on the inside for the equalising score. At half time it was seven apiece.
In the second half, the Woldsmen, as they like to be called in these parts, held the upper hand for most of the time. Their backs and forwards just seemed to be finding a bit more space to run into. Maybe the continuous flow of Wilmslow players for physio treatment and the enforced changes in personnel disrupted their game and their defence wasn't as tight as it had been earlier on. Driffield's second try came when their full back fielded an otherwise solid clearing kick close to touch, ran into midfield and by the time he was brought down in the Wolves twenty two, they had another good attacking position. Quite a lot happened as the Wolves refused to buckle until scrum half Craig Gray went over.
The Wolves response was immediate. MacCallum planted a penalty into catch and drive territory but the drive was held up so Sean Street spun it along the line into Ben Day country. The Driffield defence wouldn't have been familiar with his party trick of taking a flat pass at pace to slice through the defence, which is just what he did for 14 all. Nevertheless it didn't much alter the flow of the game as the home side soon created the opportunity for Dinsdale to go over again from short range. With less than ten minutes on the clock, the game seemed now to be heading the way of the Woldsmen.
That was until the whole Wolves side, not just one star player, rose up for the remarkable denouements from Ms. Pemberton and finally Coulthurst which snatched the prize for them.
Whatever your allegiances, it had been an excellent compelling game of rugby, in doubt until the last play was complete. Coach Jones was struggling for words afterwards such was the emotion of the occasion. He said, "They were all heroes, every one of the nineteen players here played their part. They worked their socks off and I think deserved their success." The players themselves responded with an enthusiastic rendition of WWIMH, now firmly installed as the team's anthem. On a final note though, it's in the nature of a sudden death kind of a game that one side has to emerge victorious as the winners and the other will have to do it all over again next season to earn another chance of Level 5 rugby. I have no doubt that Driffield will be back reinvigorated for next season.
As a post script, huge thanks from the whole Wolves squad to their travelling support and to Driffield RUFC for their hospitality and kindness from the moment the Wolves and their supporters arrived to the time that they left. A tremendous spectacle of rugby, played by both teams up to the very last second, added Jones, hard but fair and in the right spirit. We were the lucky ones to win promotion but on the day the game of rugby was the real winner.
Photo: You can't see him but it's a Wolves try for Jordan Ayrey.
Match report by David Pike.