Kirkby Lonsdale claimed the bragging rights and the points against Vale of Lune on Saturday in a game that both teams needed to win as they fight to avoid relegation from North Premier.
Coming so quickly on the back of their euphoric victory against Kendal, Vale travelled up the Lune Valley in good heart but their hopes of victory were dashed by a well drilled Kirkby squad who were well versed in Vale’s modus operandi.
Vale prefer to play an up tempo game and not to get too involved in prolonged bouts of nitty gritty arm wrestling in the forwards.
Against Kirkby Lonsdale they fell between two stools, unable to build a solid platform and a launch pad for some of their high stepping threequarters to exploit.
They struggled for parity, and only in the closing stages, when the scrums went uncontested because of worrying injuries sustained by their front row players, Ross Pillow, Andy Powers and To’i Aulitia, did the Vale look threatening but the home side show superb resilience in the face of a series of Vale attacks in their red zone.
It was a bubbly good humoured crowd, whose eyes glinted at the prospect of a repeat of the Kendal win and like camp followers of old as they stood four square alongside their champions.
Kirkby Lonsdale’s volunteers had prepared and served 240 meals but all the Vale’s efforts on a well prepared playing surface resulted in them surveying a few scraps on their plate which alas did not include a crumb of comfort in the shape of a losing bonus point.
Make no mistake, Kirkby were a very useful outfit through from number one to 18 with their well organised pack at the heart of their engine.
Craig Galbraith in the back row was outstanding, lock Leandro Kwiczor was a veritable lighthouse, while hooker Dan Armitstead made a massive, waspish contribution in all area.
Scrum half Ben Walker knew exactly which side his bread was buttered, using his mobile forwards at every opportunity as well as bringing the backs into the equation when an attacking situation arose.
Centre Scott Armstrong produced a number of dangerous line breaking runs and full back Ryan Terry proved to be very dependable under the high ball and decisive in his tackling.
For Vale, lock Ruan Fourie carried on where he left off against Kendal as did the assiduous Jack Ayrton and Sam Wallbank in the back row.
The backs never really got into their stride until the latter stages but Jordan and Ben Dorrington always looked capable of finding a way through a well constructed Kirkby maze.
Scrum half Billy Swarbrick came through a tempestuous buffeting with courage, hauling to the ground a number of players of meaty proportions.
Both winger Olly Jacques, in his final game, and full back Chris Ramwell, who used to play for Kirkby, were both tackled in full stride when they threatened to break clear.
A feature of the home side’s commitment in the final stages was their ruthless, fearless tackling, even when a player was in the sin bin.
A huge crowd packed the touch lines at Underley Park and they bore witness to a vibrant opening but it was Kirkby who made all the early running.
Jacques heaved the ball into touch with a relieving kick, Swarbrick pulled off a brave tackle on a player twice his size and with centres Armstrong and Dave Barton lurking dangerously in the shadows for the home side, there was little left to the imagination that the Vale would have to be on top of their game.
In the 11th minute the expected breakthrough came from the hosts.
Armstrong intercepted a pass and made a bee line for Vale’s 22.
A retreating Vale defence conceded a penalty which stand off Mike Fearon kicked.
Just before the end of the first quarter Kirkby extended their lead with an unconverted try.
The Vale scrambled unconvincingly to clear a bobbling ball but it was Galbraith who ended any debate when he was propelled over for a popular score.
Apart from the occasional break out, Vale had been put through the mangle but in the 23rd minute they cleared the suds from their eyes with an unconverted try.
Ben Dorrington made the initial break before slipping the ball to Jordan Dorrington who raced clear for a smartly taken try.
This acted as a warning to Kirkby who quickly realised that any lack of concentration or deviation from the script or plan A would be punished.
In the 30th minute, Fearon boomed a 40 metre penalty over following a high tackle and with two minutes remaining he kicked his third penalty.
The second half began with Kirkby’s forwards beginning to turn the screw in what became a strict examination of Vale’s capabilities.
Kirkby’s platform grew stronger minute by minute as the air was gradually squeezed out of Vale, who struggled to build any sustainable momentum into their game. Fearon kicked a penalty in the 55th minute but a lead of 12 points looked comfortable enough, that was until the scrums went uncontested as Vale ran out of recognised front row players.
Suddenly, Kirkby were deprived of their most significant weapon and although time was running out Vale suddenly had space to exploit.
Jacques, Damon Hall, Chris Ramwell, Jordan Dorrington and Wallbank appeared here there and everywhere as Vale tried to plot a course over the line, but Kirkby’s tackling was exemplary in the face of wave after wave of Vale attacks knowing that a score could bring undue pressure.
Vale threw everything bar the kitchen sink into the closing minutes, Kirkby remained calm to ease their way to their first win since the end of November and a comfortable cushion in the table.
Meanwhile, for Vale, they need to take full advantage in their two remaining January home games against Ilkley and Alnwick, to resurrect their season; the battle for survival is now joined in earnest for the cherry and whites.