Coming off the back of a victory against Newcastle, the Freshers team met back on the rubber crumb under the floodlights to play the return fixture a week later. The squad was depleted by injuries and absences from the previous week, but still had a strong starting team and bench.
The game was quickly underway following the warm ups, and the Durham side immediately started to control the game. Having played Newcastle the week previously, we knew that they were going to be strong over the ball on defence but having worked on clearing out the breakdown in our Monday training session this was far less of an issue on the day. The first 10 minutes were cagy – both teams kept the ball tight around the breakdown and most of the ball that went outside the 10 channel was quickly taken into contact.
Despite our exemplary control of the game, much due to the dictation of the half backs Morton Ward and Hugo Carter, there were still some issues that needed to be sorted out – unforced handling errors hindered our progress up the pitch. However, the scrum was even more dominant than the week previously, with turnover ball and numerous penalties coming from it throughout the match. The first points of the evening came quickly, with John Sommerville going over from short range following some sustained pressure. At this point in the match Durham really began to stretch their legs, running width and depth and making numerous half-breaks, whether through the muscle of the forwards, or speed of the backs, with Lachlan Peterson and Tom Neden deserving particular credit.
Newcastle rarely left their half, and even their clearance kicks would leave them still pinned back. A second try came from Tom Whitehead, dummying and scoring after quick ball left Newcastle’s defence scattered and was duly converted by Hugo Carter. At this stage Newcastle started to show some resistance, with injuries hampering Durham’s effort, leaving space in the outside channels. However, good scramble defence meant that Durham kept their clean sheet for the time being. Andrew Macdonald further extended the lead following a smart kick and chase, and Durham went into halftime leading 19-0 and looking like good value for their lead.
However, as had proven to be our Achilles heel numerous times, the second half started as poorly as the first half had ended. A plethora of changes left our already shaky lineout in dire straits, with communication errors between the subs and the players already on ending our set-piece dominance in this area of the game. Two mistakes gave up pitch control and Durham conceded a try within the first 5 minutes of the second. For the next 10 minutes, it looked as if this would be no bother – the scrum continued to march us up the pitch and Durham were camped out in Newcastle’s 22 for a majority.
However, this did not translate into points and Newcastle came back with a vengeance, scoring another try to further narrow our lead. Injuries blighted the team, requiring 3 fly halves to be on the pitch for the final 20 minutes of the game, and necessitating players who had gone off injured to return to the field. When Newcastle scored once more and converted with a few minutes to go to level the match 19-19, their sub bench jumped for joy on the touchline. However, it was to be short-lived – with the final kick of the game, iceman Max Hart slotted a kick high above the posts to confirm our 22-19 victory. Overall, it was good to secure the win but we still have plenty to work on.