Huddersfield 19 v 27 Hull Ionians
By Malcolm Knowles
I's overcome Huddersfield challenge to remain ahead of the pack.
Ionians earned only their second away win since the turn of the year with a vital victory at Huddersfield’s Lockwood Park, to continue their push for the N2N title.
A clinical display of finishing from the visitors, allied to a resolute defensive performance, ensured Ionians claimed all five points to keep a small advantage over the clubs in the chasing pack, now realistically reduced to Chester, Fylde and the hosts, Huddersfield.
Ionians got off to a flier; showing their intent from the off, they swept ball across the field and back for winger Toni Kuku to come onto the final pass at pace and crash through the massed ranks of the home defence to score. Lewis Minikin judged the blustery wind well to slot over the conversion and Ionians led 0 – 7.
Huddersfield pushed up into the Ionians half, with fly-half Chris Johnson forcing the visitors back every time they threatened to escape, and under the unremitting pressure Ionians committed a series of transgressions that had Mark Wigham, and four minutes later his fellow back rower, James Sanderson, sent to the bin.
Huddersfield used the numerical advantage to bundle their way over the line from close range, with Harry Whitfield emerging from the bottom of the pile to claim the try. Johnson added the extras to tie the score.
Ionians were back to full numbers and back into the Huddersfield half when Steve Slingsby fielded a wayward clearance, he stepped through the first line of tacklers to link with Tom Stephenson who cut further into the home defence before setting James Tinknell away to cross in the corner. Minikin’s effort at goal faded for Ionians to go to the break 7 – 12 to the good.
Ionians made a slow start to the second half, with the home side again challenging the Ionians line. Stephenson put in a good kick to clear up field and when the ball came loose in mid field it was hacked clear for Kuku to chase to the line. ‘field full-back, Tom Hodson, won the race, to set up a 5m scrum. Huddersfield turned the ball over and broke away through talismanic skipper, Richard Piper. He released Will Milner to sprint away and only an excellent cover tackle from Tom Stephenson prevented Milner from finishing his break with a try.
Ionians won the resulting line-out and Callum Smith launched what appeared to be an innocuous Garryowen. Lewis Minikin chased the lost cause, his persistence permitted the ball to bobble free into the path of Toni Kuku who gathered and fed onto Ed Falkingham, galloping up the wing in support. He shrugged off the covering tacklers to plough over close to the touchline to extend the lead to 7 – 17.
Despite having an indifferent afternoon off the tee in the difficult conditions, Minikin made no mistake with a penalty right in front of the sticks, to push Ionians further ahead.
Huddersfield hit back immediately; they attacked the re-start to re-gain possession and good handling allowed them to break through, with Hodson joining the line to put winger Tom Owen in for a try, Johnson enjoyed little luck from the tee and pushed the attempt just wide.
The visitors, having rung the changes off the bench, looked the fitter outfit and wrestled the initiative back to earn the bonus point with a superb score. Falkingham instigated the move with the initial charge, Ben Carlile then bullocked his way forward to set the outstanding James Sanderson loose up the stand-side wing. He attracted the attention of several defenders but was able to slip a pass out to Slingsby who carried on up the touch to cross in the corner. Minikin iced the cake with a beauty from the tee and Ionians seemed to be coasting to victory at 12 – 27.
Huddersfield had other ideas. Having showed little of their attacking prowess to this point, they launched an attack from deep within their own half. The dangerous Hodson skipped his way clear before setting winger Workman away on a 60m run. Minikin eventually caught him and dragged him to ground but Huddersfield were quick to get up in support and prop Whitfield was on hand to go over for his second try and cut the arrears to eight points.
The hosts continued to press and Ionians had their third player sent to the bin, Ben Carlile the offender, but Ionians had sufficient nous to see out the remaining minutes without mishap and Tom Stephenson put the ball in the bushes to bring to an end an enthralling contest in which the best of N2N rugby was exhibited. Whether it is good enough for N1 remains to be seen.