Rhinos charge to bring of title
RUGBY LEAGUE: IPSWICH Rhinos are on the brink of clinching the Eastern Division title after a sizzling derby triumph over Norfolk Saints.Rhinos produced a brilliant performance to win the East Anglian showdown 32-20 at North Walsham.
Ipswich Rhinos are on the brink of clinching the Eastern Division title after a sizzling derby triumph over Norfolk Saints.
Rhinos produced a brilliant performance to win the East Anglian showdown 32-20 at North Walsham.
And they now need to beat Bedford at Humber Doucy Lane on August 4 to clinch the divisional championship.
An inspired team display – masterminded by Mike Reeves at fly half – saw off a typically competitive Norfolk side as Ipswich completed a clean sweep of victories over their Eastern Division rivals this summer.
Ipswich also have the chance to win a prestigious play-off place and if they qualify, are likely to face North London.
Two hard away matches at Oxford and West London immediately before the East Anglian derby proved the ideal preparation.
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In contrast, the Saints had not been in action on the previous two weekends.
And apart from the opening 12 minutes, when sustained pressure failed to break Rhinos' defence, the hosts looked a pale shadow of their normal selves.
In that opening period Ipswich were forced into taking four line dropouts under the posts – carrying out 30 consecutive tackles.
Jules Gray, a key member of the visitors' pack, was injured in the opening stages of the contest which tested the Rhinos' resolve at an early stage of proceedings.
Reeves eventually carried the ball out of defence as Ipswich mounted their first foray into Norfolk territory and his pinpoint pass found second rower Harry Ackerman, who crashed over out wide for the opening try.
A pre-match tactical switch saw youngster Brendan Cook moved out of the pack on to the wing while Tom Kelling was drafted in at hooker to give Vaughan Evans a free hand at second row.
The move paid dividends with Evans picking up two first-half tries – one resulting from a dropped Norfolk ball and the other coming by virtue of an outrageous dummy after a break and pass from Reeves.
Both sides were fired up for the occasion and this was no place for neutrals with heavy challenges throughout emphasising the desire of both sides to win the derby.
Norfolk fought back with tries from Chris Greenhall and Tom Raines to restrict Ipswich's lead to 14-10 at the break.
Norfolk's chances of containing Ipswich were dealt a blow soon after the restart when influential full back Tony Kingsmill was sinbinned for punching Pete Le Marquand.
And the full back was fortunate to escape a red card as the offence was committed in front of the referee.
Almost immediately Ipswich took advantage with both Pete Le Marquand and Joe Francis crossed the tryline in the ten minutes Kingsmill was off the field.
Reeves' reliable boot ensured both efforts were converted to enable the Rhinos to establish a 26-10 lead.
The combination of Reeves and Richard Pollard at half back was winning the battle for control in midfield while Ackerman, Andy Windridge and Evans were the dominant forwards.
Adrian Evans – in his first match of the year – played confidently and the forward bias in the Rhinos' side gave them an extra advantage.
Greenhall pulled a try back for the hosts but a 65th minute Ipswich try virtually settled the
outcome of the contest.
Francis Atkins went up for a high ball with an opponent and the ball was spilled and regathered by Pete Le Marquand, who capitalised to plunge over for his second try.
Reeves' fourth conversion gave Ipswich an 18-point lead and Richard Horne's 78th minute try under the post was little more than a consolation effort.
And the off-the-field celebrations had already begun among the travelling band of Ipswich
Another injury towards the end marred a highly-successful day for the Rhinos when industrious
forward Lee Haylock sustained a badly broken index finger.
Haylock will now miss the final games and the start of the Union season.
All 17 members of the Ipswich squad had played a key role in securing the spoils and the players demonstrated the sort of team spirit built up over the summer, particularly in the opening period, to keep Norfolk at bay and build a platform for their emphatic victory.
Rhinos: Paul Le Marquand, Francis Atkins, Pete Le Marquand, Joe Francis, Brendan Cook, Mike Reeves, Richard Pollard, Andy Wilson, Tom Kelling, Jules Gray, Harry Ackerman, Vaughan Evans, Andy Windridge, Lee Haylock, Gareth Edwards, Danny Gallant, Adrian Evans.