Fielding a much-changed line-up, Ilkeston started the new National League, Midlands 1 East season with a disappointing 36-7 defeat at the hands of Northampton Old Scouts.
Elks finished five places above their hosts in 2015/16 when taking fifth spot in the 14-team division. But their squad included three new starters and five of last year’s Colts, and it is clear they are going to take time to gel.
Basic errors in possession littered their performance, leaving plenty to work on in training. and things won’t get any easier this Saturday when they entertain relegated Old Northamptonians, who are looking to bounce straight back to the league’s top flight.
Elks played with the wind in the first half and enjoyed some good early possession and territory. However, they were turned over in the Scouts 22 and as they failed to deal with a chip ahead, the home team took full advantage and ran in their first try in the 12th minute.
The visitors came back well, but they missed a kickable penalty and although they crated chances, far too often the ball was spilled in contact or knocked on. This was the pattern for most of the first half and Elks turned round 5-0 down and facing a tough task into a strong wind, compounded by heavy rain.
Scouts adapted to the conditions much better in the second period, getting good possession from a line out in the Elks 22, driving well and releasing the ball to find a gap in midfield where they shot through for a score that was converted.
The Northampton team grew in confidence and scored another try after 47 minutes to make it 17-0. But at least Elks kept battling, and some excellent interplay between Aaron Garvey and Jono Falls resulted in the latter going over for a try that Jack Crabtree converted.
Unfortunately Falls was injured in the process, forcing him to leave the field, and soon after the restart, Luke Bayliss was yellow-carded for a knock-on deemed to be deliberate. Scouts took full advantage of the extra man and were camped in the Elks 22, applying pressure that eventually brought another try to make it 24-7.
The hosts were soon back on the attack and after an Elks knock-on, they had a promising attacking scrum. Luckily, they were penalised for feeding and Elks cleared, but the reprieve was only temporary as Scouts poured forward again and, after several drives, they scored in the right corner, with extras added making the score 29-7.
Another try was quick to follow after some good handling, which led to them scoring score under the posts and adding another conversion.
It was a tough day for Ilkeston, with so many changes and so many mistakes making it difficult to get out their own half. But a man-of-the-match award still had to be handed out, and it went to Sam Humphries, who put in a sterling defensive effort with numerous tackles throughout.