Castle Walls Crumble against Westoe Siege
Hard fought battle between promotion contenders
Lookers sponsored South Shields Westoe kept promotion hopes alive with a battering display against a strong Barnard Castle side. With recent meetings always being close and the sides sitting in second and third, this was always going to be a bruising encounter.
After some heavy rain the conditions were wet and muddy; just right for two huge packs to battle it out on the steep slope at Barnard Castle.
Right from the off the two sides put down their markers with strong running and fierce defence. Playing up the slope, Westoe found themselves having the lion’s share of tackling in the first period, as Castle threw attack after attack at the Shieldsmen.
The early periods of the match saw the visitors with the highest work rate and dominant in the loose play, beating Westoe to the majority of breakdowns. The first score eventually came after 10 minutes with a Castle penalty due to a Westoe offside. Within 3 minutes Westoe had forced their way up the hill and were awarded a similar penalty to even the score. 3-3
The game continued primarily through the forwards, with both sides smashing into each other and neither ready to give any quarter. Any expansive play seemed to fail due to conditions or solid defensive play from the two teams.
It was 20 minutes into the half before the crowd were given their first try. Castle’s fly-half, Upton, spotted that Westoe’s fullback was caught in a ruck and with no-one home in the back-field, grubbered a long ball which he gathered himself for the easy run-in, retaking the lead. 10-3
With parity in possession, Westoe profited from Castle’s decisions not to kick for territory on the steep muddy slope, trusting in their pick and go tactics throughout the half. Despite some strong running, Castle struggled to gain much foothold as they were brought down repeatedly by a determined Westoe side, who threw body and soul into their defence.
With the half coming to a close, Westoe strung together a series of punishing forward drives, edging their way up-field. After sucking in the opposition, Westoe spun the ball wide, finding Joe MacKenzie who split the defence and fed Jamie Preston. Preston hit the line at the perfect angle to break through the final defence and score to end the half. 10-10
The battering continued into the second half, with powerful drives from two determined teams, who were met by punishing defending. The first 10 saw Westoe’s pack with the momentum, hitting the home side with waves of forward attacks.
A Castle line-out was stolen and spun wide. Quick re-cycled ball fed John Younghusband who powered his way from 25m out, through the home defence to take the lead for the first time. 10-17
Westoe, now leading, went for the air, with some good tactical kicking from Chris Judson, Jake Arnold and Luke Moffett. Castle continued to fight, working their way slowly up the steep slope, only to find themselves 50-60m back again after some great loose steals and the sensible territory kicking.
With a quarter left to play, Westoe increased their lead with a penalty for offside, after another promising attack was stopped over the line, the ball being stripped from Richards’s hands as he dove over the line. 10-20
Castle threw everything against Westoe in the last twenty minutes; however a splendid defensive performance prevented any further scores.
With Castle attacking the line, the final play saw Elliott pull off a wonderful ripped ball delivered to Judson who kicked the ball dead to finish off a superb performance from the Westoe eighteen. A well-deserved victory for Westoe who showed true passion and commitment throughout, happy to put their bodies on the line for the win.
The victory keeps up the pressure for the promotion race between Westoe, Durham, Castle and Consett.
With Durham likely to secure the league title, the second play-off stop is still up for grabs. Although Consett have a game in hand and Castle are 5 points clear, they both have very tough run-ins, having to play each other and Durham in the last 4/5 games . Westoe, however have an easier route on paper.
Due to the adverse weather conditions, all four contenders are faced with several mid-week games, which may throw up some unusual results, as sides struggle with availability issues and match fatigue.
Westoe face Gateshead on Wednesday for another must win match. Although currently in eighth position, Gateshead have four games in hand and have shown they are capable of taking the scalps of the league leaders. Westoe have won two of the last three encounters but will need to continue this week’s form to ensure another victory.