In one of the only surviving National One fixture of the day, Leeds narrowly missed out on causing a mammoth upset in the trans-Pennine derby at Headingley Stadium.
Early season pace-setters Sale FC had to resort to some rear-guard action as the Tykes started in buoyant mood, determined to end the calendar year on a high.
Sale FC Director of Rugby, Jonathan Keep, praised the quality of the encounter, acknowledging Leeds’ growth in all areas since the reverse fixture. Speaking on the touchline, Keep said: “Leeds won the midfield territory battle in the first half”, forcing his side to make tactical adjustments at the interval. He continued: “Leeds were massively improved in all areas from our game at Heywood Road at the start of the season and I expect them to do well in the second half of the campaign.”
A shock seemed to be on the cards in this now annual fixture at our former home of Headingley Stadium, as Leeds enjoyed the better of the opening stages. Tighe Maxwell-Whiteley kicked a simple penalty on six minutes as Sale were penalised for pulling down a maul.
The lead was soon extended to 10 when Kieran Davies produced a moment of individual brilliance, creating a gap in the defensive line. His crafty give-and-go proved once again his ability to give the Tykes an edge in attack. The Welshman showed great vision to find Harry Jukes on his inside shoulder, who in turn showed great footballing skills to kick ahead and score under the posts. Maxwell-Whiteley added the conversion.
As has so often been the case this year, the visitors responded soon afterwards. Joshua Brown dotted down at the back of a maul from the line-out and Kieran Wilkinson converted smartly.
The Tykes were not disheartened and just moments later, they hit back with a try of their own to recapture control. A looping pass out wide found Seremaia Bai Turagabeci in space; he showed silky footwork to dance his way to the try line after fast distribution from the half-backs. Maxwell-Whiteley was unable to add the touchline conversion.
Davies took on an audacious penalty from the halfway line with the last kick of an encouraging first half; it fell short as the scoreboard read 15 – 7 at the halfway stage.
Leeds struggled to regain any real ascendancy in the second period as Sale got themselves back into the game with a blistering start. James Harper forced his way over from short range after the Leeds defence folded under continuous pressure. Wilkinson’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
The Dogs’ Second Row Alex Groves was sin-binned for an offence at the line-out, when he took out counterpart John Okafor in the air. However, for the second successive ‘home’ game, Leeds failed to take advantage of their opponents’ depleted numbers. In fact, halfway through Groves’ enforced rest, Leeds prop Will Dennis followed him to the sin bin for an alleged no arms tackle, much to the bewilderment of the home support. James Robins scored from the resulting penalty, levelling the match.
Replacement Back Rower, or self-proclaimed ‘Milkman’, Jake Barron sent the travelling support home happy with a decisive try five minutes from time. Final score 15-20.
The home side were visibly upset at being unable to see the game out but have much to be positive about going into the new year. Their cohesion and development is clear to see with hopes of climbing the league table being more realistic than ever before.
Speaking after the game, Captain Trystan Lloyd said: “Going in at half time, we felt they were there for the taking and were pleased with our performance. We just needed to be more clinical in the right areas of the pitch to get over the line. There are promising signs moving forward and we look forward to what next year brings.”
Final score 15 – 20