The Final Whistle with Erin Collins
They say that things are only impressive in comparison, but writing this report is an opportunity to reminisce on a game that was simply excellent in its own right. This was always going to be a big fixture- the last time Durham faced Northumbria was at home and although Durham defended the home turf with a 34-10 victory, it wasn’t always easy. Now was time for the return fixture at Kingston Park, a location where Durham had never managed to beat the home team. Would tonight, with the later kick off, blustery conditions and changes to the team be the night they returned victorious? After the previous week’s dissatisfying fixture against Loughborough, Durham had been working hard and mentally preparing themselves for their toughest fixture yet. Northumbria had a shot at beating the unbeaten team and doing it at home in front of what turned out to be a rather rowdy crowd- the odds were in their favour.
As evening settled in, Durham stepped out under the floodlights to booing from the home crowd and cheers from a few intrepid Durham supporters. The first few minutes got under way with high intensity attacks from both teams. Crunching tackles drew cheers from the audience but more noticeable was the Durham coaches, sat alone at opposite ends of the pitch, hiding nerves and concern under careful masks of quiet concentration. A penalty to Durham near Northumbria’s ’22 brought the chance for number 12 Beth Blacklock to put some points on the board. Along with the three points came a settling of Durham nerves- they prepared for an intense game that from the side-lines, was nerve-wracking.
A strong team effort took Durham down into the enemy half again and they came away with a team try scored by second row Trudy Cowan in the corner. The high wind made converting difficult for the entire game, but the continued efforts kept the tries coming. It is tempting in a game as engaging as this to give a blow-by-blow account of every speedy break, every huge tackle and ground-shaking ruck, but that would take more space to write than we have. After much backwards-ing and forwards-ing, some cohesive moves brought Beth Blacklock into space and to a try following an excellent break. The first half ended on the cusp of a third try and as the second half began they came back straight away to finish what they’d started.
Momentum had now picked up and the tries kept coming. Breaks from prop Heather Kerr and two more tries from Trudy Cowan added to the final score of 46-5. The only points scored against Durham came after a quick succession of penalties caused a swift retreat down pitch which was finished with a great break by Northumbria’s no 5. After a yellow card for illegally slowing down the ball, Northumbria were down to fourteen players and having failed to capitalise on overlaps beforehand, the tides turned against them as Durham repeatedly moved the ball wide to score tries that were, more often than not, set up by backs and finished by forwards.
The final whistle came with an roar from the victors and supporters- not only was this a historic win away but represented Durham officially winning the league for only the second time ever!
Battered, bruised but beaming from ear to ear, Durham celebrated a historic success with a game that truly encompassed every player and the skills that make them such a force to be reckoned with. The away team returned home realising with a smile that the rowdy fans had been remarkably quiet once the game got underway… Indeed, there was no denying the Durham got the upper hand through determination and careful execution, maintained it with individual flair and sealed the deal by playing as united team, rising up to the very top.