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Victorious Blaydon overcome setbacks
ON a glorious Grassington afternoon Blaydon almost contrived to throw away a game they appeared to have sewn up inside half an hour.
Three yellow cards and three kicks which came back off a post contributed in the build-up to a dramatic finish, when the visitors needed some intense commitment to hang on.
Blaydon were much the better side when they had 15 men on the field, but they were down to 13 either side of half-time and had a third man sin-binned 12 minutes from time.
A 25-7 lead was whittled down to 25-21 while the first two yellow cards overlapped, then they stretched ahead again, only to allow Wharfedale to dominate the closing stages.
While the Premiership develops an increasingly southern bias, it is gratifying to know that only two rungs down rugby continues to flourish in this scenic outpost.
The eccentric announcer brought some relevance to his ramblings by pointing out that nine of the home squad had come up through the juniors, while the programme notes pointed out that the referee's assistants were from much closer to Blaydon than Wharfedale.
One was Stockton-based John Pearson in his 46th and final year of officiating. He now boasts a bigger overhang than nearby Kilnsey Crag and with a new knee to boot he does well to keep strutting his stuff.
Fly half Andrew Baggett spent several seasons at Wharfedale before joining Blaydon and not for the first time the return to his old stamping ground brought a touch of stage fright.
He had boasted a 100 per cent kicking record for the previous three weeks, but after landing an early 25-metre drop goal he converted only the first of the four first half tries.
Two conversions and a relatively straightforward penalty struck woodwork and there were gasps of disbelief from the crowd of 700 when a Wharfedale penalty also hit a post.
Blaydon's first two tries were scored by right winger Tom Jeffery.
Highly influential scrum half Hall Charlton set him up to burst through for the first from a scrum on the 22, then from a similar distance he kicked on to score after Wharfedale dropped the ball.
Another turnover, this time skilfully earned, produced the third try when hooker Matt Hall broke from halfway and slipped the ball to centre Charles Incledon, who rode a tackle and raced over.
It was all too easy at that point and when a penalty was kicked to the corner outstanding flanker Ben Morris finished off the catch-and-drive.
With the four-try bonus in the bag, Blaydon were attacking again when they lost the ball and Wharfedale's kick and chase saw Charlton sin-binned for obstruction.
Two minutes later, with the hosts applying intense pressure, flanker Gavin Jones was also yellow-carded for infringing at a ruck.
Home full back Tom Davidson took advantage of the inevitable overlap to nip over and Wharfedale raced over again straight after half-time. Davidson added an excellent conversion from the right touchline to reduce the gap to four points.
As soon as Blaydon were back up to 15 men they were a shade fortunate to be awarded a penalty for a late tackle on Baggett. They kicked to the corner, but lost the ball and when Wharfedale were awarded the put-in at a scrum they had the chance to clear.
But Hartlepool lad Aaron Myers was betrayed by his lack of stature for a No 8 as he picked the ball up and was driven back over the line, where Jason Smithson stripped it off him to score.
Full back Gavin Painter converted for a 32-21 lead and Blaydon again looked comfortable.
But the fighting spirit which has allowed Wharfedale to survive at his level resurfaced and when they mounted an impressive driving maul Matt Hall was sin-binned for his illegal attempt to halt it.
The next drive produced a try, converted by Davidson, and it seemed Blaydon would do well to survive a further eight minutes with 14 men, especially when they were shunted backwards in a scrum.
Heroic defence prevailed, however, and they ended the match back on the attack with a rare run for winger Frazer Wilson. Blaydon have an impressive pack, but they really should try to make more use of Wilson's blistering pace.