Bolstered by a large influx of 1st year students from Northumbria University, Northern Panthers were able to take the field of play on Saturday against a strong Alnwick III's team with a full team and five subs. Although the Panthers were well beaten with a final score of 7 points to 50, coaches Gray and Sealby (a big thank you to Tom for stepping so easily into a forwards coaching / managing role on the day) were enormously heartened by the positive attitude shown by Panthers Captain Rob Thomson and regular Panthers players Dan Coates, Olly Dykes, Dave Lockhart, Dom Agnew and Jacob Barr (who brought two army mates along as well) and the way they integrated with the Northumbria boys. There is a huge amount of potential going forward with these young University players -who are all far better behaved and polite than I was at their age!
Given Alnwick's greater physicality and cohesion as a squad of players this game was always going to be a difficult one- but it would certainly have been closer but for some unfortunate refereeing decisions which deprived the Panthers of two tries. Firstly, the referee calling play back for an injury to an Alnwick player - who didn't need treatment-when the Panthers had worked a five on two overlap deep in the Alnwick 22 and the try line was beckoning invitingly, and then later in the second half when Dan Coates had driven hard to within two metres of the whitewash, an Alnwick player wasn't pinged for not rolling away and Alnwick turned the ball over to go the length of the pitch to score under the posts - the two incidents combining to effect a 19 points plus turnover.
The try Northern scored was a blind-side move from depth, well executed and quite magnificently finished with a swan dive even Chris Ashton would have been proud of (see photos on Northern Panthers F/book page) and showed what this young team could do with ball in hand when the opportunity arose.
As most of the players are new to each other (and the coaches) it will take a little time for this team to gel together effectively, learning the patterns and structures necessary to win games, as well as coming to terms with the physicality that this level of club rugby entails, but the omens are good that the building blocks are firmly in place to start those processes.
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