Saturday, March 31
Midlands One (East)
Ilkeston RUFC 36
As the season draws to a close, Ilkeston seem to have saved the best until last as their demolition of second-placed Paviors on Saturday testifies.
The bonus point win, the seventh in a row, keeps alive the chance of a second place play-off spot but, with two games left, it would appear the Elks will be reflecting on a poor mid-season patch when injuries stretched resources to the limit.
In the lead-up to the game, the omens were not good. First, Simon Bennett withdrew to attend to his mother, who had been rushed to hospital. The news at kick-off was that she was comfortable and awaiting surgery. Everyone wishes her a speedy recovery.
The reshuffle saw Jake Smithurst start in the second row with Ben Marshall brought onto the bench for his first appearance of the season. The warm-up saw a second withdrawal when Greg Taylor pulled a hamstring, which meant youngster Jack Towsend made his first start and Rich Burns was promoted to the bench.
Despite the last minute alterations, the visitors settled quickly and enjoyed parity in the opening stages with Quinn and Corcoran setting an example of how to conduct defence duties.
Fifteen minutes in, Paviors established a slight edge territorially and earned a penalty 40 metres out which Billam converted to give them a 3-0 lead. Smithurst reclaimed the start and set Gatehouse on a powerful charge. Falls carried the move forward with a mazy run and set up a ruck close to the home line.
Haigh was on hand to use the ball and his reverse flick to Quinn opened the Elks account. Falls’s conversion made it 3-7 with 17 minutes gone. The Elks stretched their lead 21 minutes in. Fowkes secured a lineout on halfway and the ball was moved to midfield.
Mahoney and Moore were on hand to win the ruck and quick ball enabled Ayers, Townsend, Dan Taylor and Mahoney to display consumate handling skills and put Lewis Taylor between the posts. Falls converted.
At 3-14, the Elks were playing with confidence and ambition. Gatehouse’s desire to keep the ball in hand and release his backs gave the Paviors defence problems they could not find answers to.
Another Dan Taylor break found his centre partner Ayers on hand to link with the dynamic Mahoney and Cocoran, who fed Townsend and he scored wide out to establish a 3-19 lead after 24 minutes.
The Elks applied pressure for the remainder of the half and could have scored two further tries but first Haigh and then Gatehouse were deemed held up over the line.
Three minutes into the second half, Paviors fought their way back into the game when they reminded the visitors of their capabilities with a flowing move deep inside their own half, finished by Billam. The conversion made it 10-19.
The Elks responded well and pinned the home side back. A reshuffle was required when Wells was forced off with a rib injury.
McQuire moved to tighthead and Meakin came on as loose head. The scrum retained its solidity and ensured territorial dominance.
Camped inside the Paviors half, the Elks could have added to the score but two further tries were denied when first Mahoney and then Gatehouse were judged to have been held up over the line.
The home side were also somewhat fortunate that referee Schofield did not take firmer action on two occasions when driving mauls were collapsed close to the line.
The pace and impact at the tackle took their toll as first Mahoney and then Quinn retired, to be replaced Marshall and Burn in the back row as the game entered the last quarter.
23 minutes into the half, the visitors pressure was rewarded. A solid scrum allowed Corcoran to pick and feed Haigh who wriggled over from close range to claim a bonus point try. Falls converted to give the Elks a 10-26 lead.
That lead was increased to 10-31 from the restart when forwards and backs combined to produce a spectacular try which Dan Taylor scored, a just reward for his contribution. As full time approached, Paviors redoubled their efforts and were rewarded when Pike’s hard work put him in a position to pick and drive over from close range.
Billams’s conversion brought it to 17-31. Into injury time, Paviors continued to press but a crunching tackle saw them spill the ball close to the Elks line.
Townsend picked up and sprinted the length of the pitch to score wide out and make the final margin 17-36.
Classic Man of the match – Joel Haigh