Halifax Vandals showed distinct signs that they are getting to grips with life in Yorkshire Two in a 22-22 home draw against Ripon on Saturday.
Their performance against in-form rivals demonstrated that they are gelling as a unit and responding well to the step up in quality of the opposition.
The doggedness and belligerence which characterised so much of last year’s promotion season is very much in evidence and with a little more control and fewer mistakes in crucial positions, close results can be turned into victories.
Again the Warley men were slow out of the blocks. Ripon moved the ball impressively up the hill, stretched a rearranged Vandals defence and an impressive mid-field break led to a converted try on seven minutes.
Vandals were under the cosh and Ripon continued to play with pace and confidence but a relieving kick from Fox gave Vandals their first spell in the opposition half.
Terrific forward play led by Jowett and Carrington took play to the try line and the ball was cynically killed, leading to the first of three yellow cards for the visitors.
The ball was kicked to the corner, stand in hooker Mitchell found his jumper and Maeer and Richardson led the driving maul over the line for Burnside to score. Crowther added a brilliant conversion into a gusting wind.
Vandals were finding rhythm and depriving the dangerous Ripon back line of possession,
Duffy was making excellent ground at inside centre and after he had made an impressive break, Ripon again killed the ball and Crowther’s 40 metre penalty gave Vandals a 10-7 lead on 20 minutes.
All the hard work was undone, however, as poor mid-field defence allowed Ripon to counter from deep inside their own half and the winger scored in the corner to edge the visitors 12-10 ahead playing into the elements.
Following a missed Vandals penalty kick, Ripon added another five points from a quick tap penalty, which was followed by terrific handling and support play.
Fox suffered a hamstring injury, resulting in a re-shuffle of the back division, but the last 10 minutes of the half belonged to Vandals. Sustained pressure led to another yellow card for Ripon but a golden opportunity to level the scores went begging.
Following strong words from captain Paul Jowett, Vandals came out on fire. Sutcliffe was sniping from the base of the breakdown and Hamer made a fantastic break.
Burnside demonstrated terrific dexterity to release McAspurn and Clapham in the wide channels and Tommy Crowther took a superb inside pass to scorch under the posts and the kick made it 17-17.
Ripon were visibly shocked and tried to play an expansive game from their own half but were driven back by a rejuvenated Vandals.
There was destructive running from Bryson and Crowther out wide with Simm and Burns crashing into a wilting Ripon pack. Hamer took advantage of clean ball to scythe through for an excellent try out wide.
With half an hour to play it was now anyone’s game and both sides played exhilarating, physical rugby.
Ripon were again reduced to 14 men and Vandals tried to turn the screw but spurned chances.
With three minutes left, Vandals were awarded a penalty but missed touch and after an intense passage of play Ripon’s prop forced his way over in the corner. The kick was missed.
Vandals refused to accept a draw. They launched wave after wave of attacks but a tackle into touch finally drew the curtain on a breathtaking encounter.