Wanderers 5 Darlington Mowden Park 55. Match report by Andre James
On a what was a truly horrible day to venture outside let alone play rugby, with intermittent sleet showers, a bitingly cold wind and a claggy pitch, Northern Wanderers took the field at home against a Darlington Mowden Park second selected team. Northern's cause wasn't particularly helped by having two cry-offs on the morning of the game and two "no- shows" which meant that there was precious little cover on the bench.
It is an old adage that a good little 'un will one rarely beat a good big 'un and the difference in terms of sheer physical bulk was evident from the time that both sides took the field of play, with DMP having a number of South Sea islanders in their ranks, including a six foot five, seventeen stone lock with (so the whisper went) two caps for Tonga.
Despite this, Northern started brightly with strong pressure on DMP from the kick off resulting in a penalty to Northern for holding on the ground. Quick thinking by Lee Thompson with a tapped penalty and swift hands to deliver the ball to David Riddles on the left hand side of the twenty two, led to an excellent try in the corner, with Riddles, who still had a lot of work to do to get around the last two defenders, finding a great curving line to run in over the whitewash. The conversion was missed from a difficult angle.
With a little more luck the Wanderers could have scored another couple of tries in the game but were denied when a delicate nudge through from Nico Melchiorre, after sustained pressure in the DMP 22, just wouldn't sit up for him to dab down and when DMP scored a break away try when the ball broke loose, led by their man of the match, the Tongan lock, who rampaged through a number of tackles before freeing one of their speedy centres to score, after Northern had been pressing hard for a number of phases deep in DMP territory.
Unfortunately, however, after that first score, Northern were on the back foot for the rest of the match from a DMP team who shook of their initial torpor and whose superior physical size, speed and strength led them to run in tries throughout the remainder of the match to emerge 5-55 victors.
Rob Richardson, the smallest man on the pitch, controlled what ball he had well at nine, and probably made more successful tackles than anyone else in Northern colours. Dave Lockhart, who was forced to play most of the game due to retirements from chest infections and knee injuries, still had enough in the tank to not only scrummage well but also to win back a restart dabbed along the ground which just travelled the required ten metres late in the second half. All the forwards deserve credit for holding the scrum together against a much bigger pack and getting the ball away under enormous pressure, with Lloyd Holmes consistent in getting a good quick strike and the ball working quickly to the no8 to pick and go or distribute. Will Lawton put himself about the park with his customary energy and Ian Brierley led with his usual "out of the trenches and at ‘em" style. John “Deano” Dean-Laws added an aggressive edge when he came on to the field, James Pattinson and Harry Clark carried the ball abrasively into contact, Dan Matthews and Paul Mawhinney tried to find space when they could and David Riddles kicked well out of hand and passed accurately, but this was a day when the backs were never going to see much of the ball in their hands in open play given the opposition strength and the conditions.
However, credit must go to all the Wanderers for showing enormous resilience in continuing to try to play in the face of considerable adversity and also to DMP for playing the game in their right spirit and never resorting to showboating. The overall attitude of their players and coach were a credit to their club.
The match could be regarded either as a learning curve or as a game too far;- I hope most of the players thought the former, although that is easy for me to say from the side lines running touch watching the game !
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