This was a key weekend in the North One East fixtures, with top-placed Driffield playing fourth-placed Cleckheaton, and Ilkley at second playing Heath at third. The outcomes of these games would have a real bearing on the league table.
The Woldsmen travelled to Cleckheaton with confidence restored after last week’s emphatic win away to Durham City, knowing that nothing but their best would yield them anything against a resurgent Cleckheaton.
Driffield had a strong southerly wind at their backs in the first half, but it was Cleckheaton who got off to a lightning start as Hainsworth in centres crossed for an early try, was converted by Breakwell.
Stung by this early setback, the Woldsmen started to build pressure on their hosts, camping relentlessly in the Cleckheatonheaton half. Driffield were at least matching their opponents in the scrum and robust drives forward from Cullen and Mewburn took play close to the hosts line.
Displaying admirable patience, Driffield held onto the ball for long periods building field position until, inevitably, the home defensive weakened and the captain, as ever leading by example, drove over for the score. Watts narrowly missed with the conversion, but Driffieldwere up and running atjust two points behind and looking dangerous.
A further period of Driffield pressure , once again showing patience in the face of well-organised and robust defence, finally resulted in another score as Cullen powered over for a much-deserved try. Watts improved it with the conversion and Driffield went into half-time with a 12- 7 lead.
Of course, Cleckheaton were not going to lie down and started the second half with all guns blazing. Breakwell used the wind well to gain field position but from the line out Driffield defended well and drove Cleckheaton back. However, sharp hands gave Brambani an opportunity to touch down which he took and Breakwell added two with a touch-line conversion that left the visitors trailing by 14- 12.
The home backs were looking dangerous with Hainsworth and Brambani making cutting half-breaks only to be brought down by some heroic tackling from the Driffield defenders. None more so than Ben Blacker, who should be very proud of his afternoon’s work.
Johnson, Mewburn and the ever-unflappable Jenkinson worked hard to grind Driffield back up the pitch , ably assisted by Turner and the Sowerby boys. But another sweeping attack from Cleckheaton cut through the away defence and Flanagan touched down to make it 21-12 with the Breakwell conversion.
With time ebbing away and all the bench on the field Driffield, once again showed great character to get themselves into a position to get something out of the game. When Watts kicked a difficult penalty into the wind to close the gap to six points there was hope among the many travelling supporters for a late turnaround. Sadly, it was not to be as Cleckheaton closed the game out and an excellent game of rugby came to an end.
The Driffield lads were gutted to have lost but must take great credit for a fantastic, mature performance that held a lot more positive elements than negative ones. They will dust themselves off and take the fight to Kelleythorpe next week where they face Moortown.
With Heath beating Ilkley narrowly, they go top. Driffield drop to second and Ilkley to third.
The season has many more twists and turns in store as it reaches its finale and, at the end of the day, the Woldsmen will have their say.