Happy Ilkeston celebrated their first win of the new Midlands 1 East season when edging a tight game against another newly-promoted side, Northampton Scouts, last Saturday.
After their heavy 70-13 mauling at the hands of Newbold-on-Avon on the opening day the previous week, Elks turned in a much-improved performance at Northampton, spearheaded by man-of-the-match Matt McGuire, who put in several important tackles to go with his set-piece work.
Although discipline cost Elks dear at crucial times, glimpses of last season’s back play were visible, with Dan Rollins standing out, and the rest of the forwards battled hard.
The receiving of kick-offs caused many problems and the backs looked rusty at times, but injured players are now becoming available again to strengthen the squad. Ilkeston should certainly be full of confidence for their first home game of the campaign, which is this Saturday (kick-off 3 pm) against Old Laurentians, who have already suffered two hefty defeats.
In a match played in bright and breezy conditions, Northampton missed the first opportunity of points with a pulled kick after eight minutes. They were soon punished because when Elks were awarded a penalty, after handling at the ruck, the returning Jono Falls was spot on with the kick.
The home side hit back to lead 7-3 thanks to the first try of the match, which was well converted. And Elks suffered another potential blow when Simon Bennett was forced off the field with a calf injury and had to be replaced by Sam Humphries.
However, they were quick to respond as another penalty by Falls reduced the deficit, and late in the first half, they produced their best move of the game to build a 13-7 lead by half-time. Rollins took a clean line-out ball and the backs launched an attack through Greg Taylor. Although Taylor was dragged down at the five-metre line, the ball was recycled quickly and moved right, where a pass found Joel Haigh in space to dart over to score, Falls again kicked well to convert.
Ilkeston began the second half well and were soon in the Scouts 22 with an attacking line out. Rollins caught clean and when the ball was moved right, Scouts were offside, enabling Falls to oblige with another three points.
Northampton replied with their best phase of the game, which was helped by numerous mistakes from Elks and some poor discipline that resulted in a yellow card for Rollins for not rolling away. The home side took advantage of the extra man and carried play into the Elks 22 to pull the score back to 16-10 in the 62nd minute.
The score made for a nervy finale in which Elks had to defend resolutely, while counter-attacking as best they could. However, Scouts received a yellow card of their own in the 66th minute for a tackle that seemed more clumsy than malicious, and Ilkeston cashed in by making the game safe in the dying minutes with one last clean strike from Falls after more good work by Rollins.