Driffield were looking to bounce back from losing the previous week at Ilkley, dropping them from top spot in the league. Cleckheaton had a different motivation, starting the day one place above Driffield in the table on the same points but more games won. They will have travelled to Kelleythorpe looking to build on the previous week’s excellent victory over Moortown.
Cleckheaton have always been tough opposition for Driffield, who lost there in February 2020 and shared the spoils in the previous season’s two games. The coaches and players were in no doubt they would have to be on their ‘A’ game.
A few changes had to be made in the starting squad : Pettinger and Nellen both returned in the front row, with Blenkinsop dropping to the bench. Jenkinson replaced Forbes in the second row, allowing Sowersby to start in the back row alongside Mewburn and Brankley. In the backs, the only change was Soanes in for the injured Rix.
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Cleckheaton started well and threatened the Driffield line for the first few minutes. However, the solid defence held up and Driffield cleared their lines. They got off to a fast start with two tries by blind-side flanker Sowersby : the first on six minutes and the second on eleven. Neither kick was successful making the score 10-0.
This gave Driffield confidence : their forwards were matching their opponents, providing the platform for the backs to cut loose. A rampaging run by second row Turner led to a third try, when swift hands got the ball to Blacker who crossed for a try. Brigham made the conversion and Driffield led 17-0.
The relentless attacking unnerved Cleckheaton and they began giving away a series of penalties, conceding six inside 20 minutes. Eventually they won a penalty of their own, which they kicked downfield to touch. The lineout was won and the second row crossed for a converted try to make it 17-7.
The penalties kept mounting, allowing Will Brigham to slot a simple goal to extend the lead. As often happens, Driffield dropped their guard for a few minutes, allowing Cleckheaton’s winger to work his way into a good position to narrow the lead to 20-12.
This prompted Driffield back to full attention. Jenkinson got to a loose ball after a knock-on, picked it up and ran 50 metres for the next try, and the four-try bonus point.
Soon after, as Cleckheaton were going through the phases, the move broke down in midfield and Johnson galloped away for a fine try. Cleckheaton ended the half with their stand-off in the sin bin for arguing with the referee.
Starting the second half with plenty of time to run on the card, Driffield launched a sustained offensive that saw three tries in ten minutes : by prop Nellen, number eight Brankley and outside centre Soanes. One conversion was missed, making the score 49-12.
Again, Driffield dropped their guard, allowing Cleckheaton to cross for a try to make it 49-17. However, Cleckheaton’s frustration at their lack of further progress led to more penalties and two of their players got yellow cards for persistent offending. With two men down, it was inevitable that Driffield would score again and their ninth try of the afternoon came soon after with another strong run by Johnson, making the score 54-17.
Cleckheaton returned to the attack and the fresh legs of their replacement allowed him to power over to give them their own four-try bonus point.
Following the restart, Driffield’s Johnson made a despairing high tackle and the referee had no choice but to show the red card, as there was no mitigation. The game still had plenty of action as Cleckheaton responded with a converted try. This was answered by full-back Watts, who scored a try and added the extras in the final minute to take the score to 61-29.
The Cleckheaton pair returned from the bin and, with a man advantage, they piled the pressure on with Driffield now conceding penalties. Quick thinking saw their winger exploit a gap to score his second try of the afternoon in added time, taking the full-time score to 61-34.
On a day with 16 tries scored, Driffield’s forwards matched the heavier Cleckheaton pack for most of the game, and the backs were outstanding. Cleckheaton took the few chances they had, and will have been relieved to come away with a point from a game where they were second-best.