3rd Match Report V Sunderland (H) 7/4/18
Good win in bad conditions
The rain before the game added to what was already a very soggy Gateshead pitch, but there was no way this game wasn’t going ahead. The 3rd team hadn’t played many games this year, and this was an ideal opportunity to get some of the young lads who’ve been ready to play at this level on to the pitch for some invaluable senior rugby experience.
The team was a classic mix of youth and experience. The success and hard work of everyone working with the youth team continuing to pay off with several recent colts graduates on the field.
I must admit, when I saw the size of the Sunderland team taking to the field I was a little bit worried for the youngsters going up against them. The game started with Sunderland on the front foot, their big lads were making ground, and it wasn’t just the younger Gateshead players that were struggling to come to terms with their physicality. A few of the older heads were falling off tackles as well and it told eventually, with their hooker going over for the first try of the game. It wasn’t converted, so the score was 5-0, after less than 10 mins played.
That seemed to get the lads going a bit though, and while the Sunderland boys were still making yards when they had the ball, as well as putting our set piece under pressure, Gateshead slowly came in to the game. We were a little quicker around the park in the forwards, and that earned us a couple of kickable penalties which were put over by Connor Anderson to give us a very slender lead.
The conditions weren’t ideal for the style of rugby that would perhaps have suited Gateshead, but the rain did subside and Gateshead were able to put a few backs moves together. Todd Riley was having a great game and made one 40 metre break but was stopped and ran out of support, losing the ball. Sunderland were still coming back at us and scored a try of their own. Converted this time, to make it 12-6 at half time.
It was clear at half time that there was more to be given from the Gateshead team. When we had payed own game, Sunderland had struggled to cope with it at times but we had let the conditions and the size of the Sunderland team stop us playing how we wanted to. A classic Drew Carr motivation speech at half time really seemed to focus the minds of the boys and we came out firing in the second half.
The performance for the last 40 minutes of the game was one of the most enjoyable halves of rugby I have watched for some time. It wasn’t all champagne running rugby, but the way the lads turned around the performance in the face of the opposition and the condition was great to see.
We scored 3 unanswered second half tries, and they were all brilliant to watch. The first came through Todd Riley after the Gateshead scrum had driven their Sunderland counterparts back a good few yards. This came after the scrum had been under pressure for a lot of the first half, and young Alfie Middleton deserves a lot of credit for the way he dealt with the scrum. It’s not an easy thing to do to be under pressure and come back at your opposite number, especially when they have much more experience of the dark arts of the front row, but for most of the second half we were well on top, and Alfie was a huge part of that.
The Second try came from a good run from Micky Eckstein, showing pace and strength on the wing that rolled back the years, possibly as far back as pre-war. Callum Mantle was in support like any quality back row player should be, and still had some hard work to do before going over in the corner.
The last try was a great piece of play from Todd again, his cross-field kick was picked up by Ben Wade, who beat his man to go over and make the final score 21-12 to Gateshead. Todd’s kick was timed and placed to perfection and was in no way a total fluke of a kick executed by a player who had nothing more than a passing hunch that we would have more players in that general area than Sunderland would. It was absolutely not that. Don’t ask me any more questions.
We had managed to stop Sunderland scoring in the second half and scored 3 good tries of our own. It was a great all-round performance in the second 40 mins, but the most impressive aspect was the way the lads fought back after the Sunderland onslaught in the first half. Sunderland might be disappointed with that, but our superior fitness and play under pressure told in the end.
I can’t finish this report without a word for the young lads who played. Alfie Middleton was deserved MOM for his performance in the loose and especially at the set piece. James Conroy and Luke Austin both had great games and will only get better. Their tackling was especially hugely impressive, both hitting well above their weight and experience once they got to grips with the way Sunderland played. They should all be very happy with their senior debuts, and they are all clearly capable of some big things in the future if they put their minds to it.
Finley Reah, Callum Mantle and Ben Wade all played really well too. Finley was the other MOM, and is improving every week, if he puts in the work at training and over the summer he should be aiming to push the 1st team before too long. Callum was tireless in doing a lot of the dirty work around the park, and Ben looked comfortable and classy at 10 in the second half, his kicking under pressure was spot on and he took his try very well.
The older lads deserve a mention as well. Paul Lindsay (a very welcome sight back in a Gateshead shirt), Todd Riley and Drew Carr all showed leadership and quality that will serve as a great example to the younger lads. Having these boys in the team will do the development of the youngers a lot of good, and we’re lucky to have them at the club to show the colts how it’s done.
So, a great performance, and a well needed win that should do wonders for the confidence of the youngsters. All we need now is a bit of a break from the rain, and some sunshine. It’d be great to see how these lads do in conditions that suit them.
Well done boys! More of the same next time pleas