The weather was kind and the temperatures rose in order to get the Hippos first game of the season on as we travelled along the A66 to take on our friends at Darlington Mowden Park with a strong squad containing 10 debutants.
We were greeted with a fantastic gesture, the hosts having left a bottle of Port in the changing room for the lads. I’m sure they were hoping we may partake prior to the game, however we thought half time was early enough.
The hosts kicked off the game and after an untidy start, Gav Lumley starting at full back cleared our lines to touch. Paul Dalton stole their first line out and gave it to debutant scrum half, Mike Brown starting his first game for 4 years. His excitement got the better of him and his first pass went soaring over the head of not only the 10 but also the 12!!
It was clear the lads were rusty and hadn’t played together for a while, if at all, as open play was scrappy and loose. We were on the back foot a little bit, giving numerous silly penalties away. Luckily, our defence held and Dave Armstrong, who had made a last minute switch from the centre to start at fly half due to late cry offs, made a great break from his own 22 but unfortunately spilled the ball in the tackle. Luckily for him, our large pack dominated the scrum and stole the ball giving Mark Coull, back at his accustomed No.8 slot after a few games in the backs, the opportunity to cause havoc in the DMP defence. His rampaging run was well supported by Dave Armstrong and Gav Lumley but ultimately the rustiness showed again and the move fizzled out with a knock on by Ste Hutch.
The penalty count against us continued to rise and Mowden were pressing deep into our 22 when we managed to steal the ball and Hutchy turned defence into attack with a good run. The next scrum was well won and the resulting quick ball from Mike Brown and Dave Armstrong fed another debutant, centre Jonny Farrell who showed his class and strength as he carved his way through the Mowden back line. Another debutant, Martyn Ford continued the move infield, deep into their 22 which resulted in more quick ball allowing another debutant, Kyle Scott to force his way over for the first score of the night. Unfortunately, no one had remembered a kicking tee so Dave Armstrong had to drop kick all the conversions and the least said about the first one the better! 0 – 5
It wasn’t long after the restart that the Hippos found themselves down to 14 men, Fordy yellow carded for swearing at the ref after a somewhat dubious decision. You can tell he has been playing football for the last 6 years as opposed rugby!!
The forwards managed to save his blushes by performing well whilst a man down and that man again, Coully added the next score with some more of his typically strong running, barging his way over just to the left of the sticks. This time Dave managed to successfully drop the goal. 0 – 12
It was obvious to the large Billingham contingent on the side-lines that if the lads kept things simple, they were going to dominate this game, however nothing is ever obvious in the middle. Hutchy and Paul Shepherd, making his debut on the flank attempted a complicated move from the base of a scrum, only to knock on and give possession to DMP who kicked deep into our territory.
This time it was the backs that took charge and ran the ball back with Jonny Farrell the main man causing problems for the home defence. A few plays later and having gone from our own 22 to their 22, right on the stroke of half time, Paul Shep managed to force his way over for our third try of the evening. Unconverted.
Half time 0 – 17 (Old school orange segments and Port)
Possibly too much port was consumed during the break as straight from our kick off, Mowden went on the attack and carved their way through our line to score their first try of the night. A few Billingham players had stopped due to an injury to one of the Mowden players and there were a few disgruntled voices that play had not been stopped, however it was very unlikely the Mowden player would have been halted regardless and they deserved their score. 5 - 17
We managed to get a hold of the game again and after a bit of scrappy play in the Mowden 22, eventually wily old prop, Allan Fairhurst, being utilised as hooker for the evening forced his way over for a fourth Hippo’s try. Unconverted. 5 – 22
The game started to become a little end to end and DMP showed they have plenty of skill and determination by going over for their second of the night. 10 - 22
Whenever the ball went down the line, our backs looked like they were going to cause problems, none more so than Jonny Farrell who finished a great move in the corner due to his strong running. Unconverted. 5 – 27
With Mike Brown tiring at 9 and no obvious takers to replace him, prop Kyle Scott offered to step up and have a go. He had been taken out of the action at half time due to starting for the 2nd XV (Lions) on Saturday. Unfortunately for him, the notes in my book say, “Scotty useless at 9” haha
A large period saw both teams competing well but the majority of play was between both 22 metre lines. Another debutant, Dave Hodgson had to be replaced after a blow to the head and a reshuffle had Shep move from the flank to full back.
It was his good break that led to the final score of the night, as it was his strong running that fed Jonny Farrell who again barged his way over. Converted by Dave Armstrong.
Full time – DMP 10 Hippos 34
Man of the Match – Jonny Farrell
Next game – Friday 22nd February Hippos v DMP @ Greenwood Road
#OSIOS #HIPPOS #VETS