The charity game was upon us, the first home game of the year, with over 3000 people watching. Already this was an occasion not to be missed, and yet it gets better, the opposition was Exeter University; last year's league winners and one of DURFC’s biggest rivals.
After a solid win down in London last week against Bath, the team were keen to build on the efforts of the previous week as well as the last season. If there was ever a time to do this, it was now.
Led by captain Colin Markham, DURFC 1st XV ran out onto an untouched Hollow Drift, smiles on faces, to the full voice of Durham. The boys were ready.
The game was underway with Exeter having most of the early possession, but as was to be the theme of the game, the defensive endeavour of DURFC proved too much. After winning the ball back Durham had a lineout on halfway. They set the ball up nicely, Fred Davies broke from the back, a quick ruck and out of nowhere Durham’s electric winger Jack Hedley streaked through on a short ball, linking with Matt Welsh who then scored under the sticks… a magic play and now 7-0 Durham.
It was not long before Durham struck again through Myles Rawstron-Rudd, with some superb interplay between front row forwards Fred Davies and Scott Bowerman. It looked to all be going Durham’s way but Exeter struck back quickly through a pick and go, sneaking over the line after a long period of possession in the opposition's 22.
Again, Exeter were attacking, phase after phase, stretching the Durham defence edge to edge, a battle of fitness and physicality, one which Durham refused to lose. A crunching double tackle in the midfield sent the ball flying loose which Saul Melvin-Farr expertly swept up without breaking stride and accelerated away over the try line… a simple score through unrelenting defence. Defending for so long however does take its toll, and Exeter snuck in another 2 tries before the half time whistle, both under the sticks. Half Time score: 19-21.
This however did not phase the Durham team, who ran out from the sheds after half time with a renewed spring in their step. The Leadership group was proving its worth. None more so than Tom Catterick who remained cool, calm and collected to slot home an early penalty in the second half to put Durham back ahead, 22-21. With 20 minutes to go, Durham needed to hold the lead in front of the home crowd. However Exeter slipped through a gap in the defence and finished well to regain the lead, Durham were now set the task of scoring a converted try in the last 15 minutes. Luckily this Durham team thrives under pressure.
With the impact of the bench, the Durham team slowly moved up the pitch through some tactically perfect kicking from Paddy McDuel.
Durham were on the Exeter line, forwards crashing it up, followed by piercing hard lines from the backs, everyone working for the team. Finally DURFC broke through with Fitz Harding gliding through a gap to make the score 27-28. We needed the conversion to go ahead. TC steps up, strikes the ball…. It hits the post and goes in, unbelievable scenes. 6 minutes on the clock and one point ahead. Everyone throwing every ounce of energy into every tackle carry and ruck. Its now the last play of the game, a scrum centre field, the ball pops out the back and Ben Fowles kicks the ball, only to completely slice it and miss touch- the game isn’t over yet. Jack Hedley regathered with a great take and the ball was cleared. Game over, Durham win, the unbeaten run continues.