FOR the first time in five years, YMCA have not opened the season with a defeat – but it should have been a victory.
Having led this encounter against last season’s promoted Yorkshire III side thanks to Gavin Stead’s 29th minute penalty, they were on course for victory, only to see their defence breached three minutes from time by Barnsley centre Tom Gray who scored at the side of the posts to salvage a draw.
In truth, it was probably no less than the visitors deserved as they offered more in attack in the second half, but were denied by some sterling defensive work from YM and their own inadequacies with the ball in hand.
The South Yorkshire side had the better of the opening exchanges until YM centre Stuart Morton produced a strong run to take his side into the visitors’ half, and when Barnsley were then caught offside, Stead struck the first of his three successful kicks to give the Laund Hill men the lead.
Three minutes later, Paddy Jenson was wide of the mark with a Barnsley penalty before YM attacked again through a bursting run from second row Simon Whitehead, which ended with Morton being pulled down a yard short of the line.
But with the home side starting to get on top, the ball was quickly moved out to the left flank and then back inside giving stand-off Chris Williams a slight gap which he dived through to score the first try of the season. Stead duly converted and with a 10-0 half-time lead, things looked encouraging for new head coach Damon Scholes.
And it looked even better six minutes after the restart when Stead landed his second penalty to open up a 13-point advantage. But from that point YM seemed to switch off and allowed Barnsley back into the game.
Jenson popped over a penalty to get his side moving, and encouraged by the score the visitors started to take control.
They should have crossed on 58 minutes after a break from their stand-off, but knocked on over the line, and continued to spill the ball after creating overlaps.
A further penalty for holding on reduced the gap to seven points, but despite having plenty of possession they found YM’s much-improved defence equal to the task and as the clock ticked down, it looked as though Scholes’ side would hold out.
Fijian forward Tuivunilagi replaced Whitehead with 10 minutes remaining as YM clung on to their lead, but with three minutes left, Gray was on the end of a quick pass from his stand-off and with YM static he skated over to grab a share of the spoils, Chris Peel converting.
Overall it was probably an improved showing by YM from last year (certainly their tackling), but if they are to be an attacking force this season they do need to get their flying wingers Chris Beever and Leon Alexis-Bailey into the action – they only had one pass between them all game!
YMCA: Horner; Beever, Morton, Stead, Alexis-Bailey; Williams, Marshall; Dyke (Ste), Dyke (Stu), Lockwood, Whitehead (Tuivunilagi), Hellawell, Walker, Leonne-Maza, Pollock. Subs Hodge, Wilson.
Referee: John Eyre (Central Yorkshire).