Panthers won 13 – 10 at home to Sunderland IIs. Match report thanks to Dean Gray:
Northern Panthers, ranks swollen to eighteen players by the introduction of Northumbria students and three players from the Army encouraged to come down by Jacob Barr, played Sunderland II's on Sat at home in an Aln League game. Deano Laws also supplied the Panthers with a couple of experienced front rowers from the Wanderers in Big Dave Lockhart and Jordan Brown which meant that the game could have contested scrummages.
Northern set off brightly controlling the ball and looking dangerous in their speedy backs when the ball went into the wider channels with Sunderland determined to play a tighter game and use their greater physicality closer to the breakdown. The first try on 28 minutes of an evenly contested game came courtesy of a pick up and run on the blind side of a scrummage five metres from the Sunderland try line, after they had made a mess of clearing their lines, by no-8 Ollie Dykes, who timed his run to perfection to go over the whitewash unchallenged and who once again impressed with his overall game play, running lines and work ethic. The conversion was missed by fly half Vince Lung.
Northern manufactured a number of other opportunities in the first half but accuracy in the final pass meant that no further tries came for the home team, while Sunderland scored with five minutes of the half remaining from a forward drive, which meant, as they missed the conversion, that the scores were tied at 5-5 at the interval.
The half time team talk from coach Gray and motivational Captain Rob Thomson, consisted very much of "more of the same but with a higher tempo and more accuracy" but a frustrating second half meant that, although Northern were to score another try first, from a delicate chip ahead from Olly Dykes on the hour mark, well taken and superbly finished by replacement centre Angus Thomson, in his first game for the club, the conversion being missed by Lung, the Panthers found it difficult to build a lead that would have taken the game away from a Sunderland team that battled until the end.
Jordan Brown, who led by example all afternoon, took over the kicking duties on the 63rd minutes and slotted a sweet penalty from 35 meters to give Northern what would prove to be a vital cushion;- 13-5 to the home team. Sunderland responded well and scored an unconverted try on 73 minutes, which set up a fascinating denouement in which the visitors worked their way down to and proceeded to pound the Panthers try line for the last three minutes of the 80, remorselessly. It is enormously to this young side’s credit that they held out and despite conceding one penalty which Sunderland could have kicked for a draw and instead tapped and went, focussed on the job at hand, making a series of committed tackles on the more robust Sunderland ball carriers which eventually led to the ball squirting out of the contact and being joyfully hoofed off the field. Final score- Northern Panthers 13- Sunderland II's- 10.
Special mention must be made of Kain Appleby - Rutter at nine who was instrumental in keeping the high tempo intensity coach Gray wanted the side to have by taking quick tap penalties when the opportunity arose and exploring space around the fringes of the breakdown. He also led the tackle count and for the smallest player on the field was the most effective tackler, simply because he targets the legs of bigger players and gets them to ground quickly.
Thanks also to Big Dave- who sold one dummy on the Sunderland left winger that was even bought by people on the clubhouse balcony two hundred metres away- who had worked exceptionally hard before having to leave the field of play after an hour due to back issues, meaning that the scrums had to go uncontested.
Of the student/ Army contingent, new boy Faham played a huge role around the breakdown, carrying well and tackling effectively and Patrick Keetley playing at 12 and Vince Lung at 10 also both had accomplished games and the forwards went toe to toe with a gnarly old Sunderland outfit throughout the eighty.
Overall though, this was an outstanding team effort from a young side that showed enough grit, resolve and determination not to buckle in the face of strong onslaught from a powerful Sunderland team and hold on for a very good win.
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