The match was played at Hollow Drift in near perfect conditions in warm autumn sunshine and with minimal breeze.
Both teams fielded strong squads of 20 players or so which were much needed in what was to become a hotly-contested and physical game.
WBR kicked-off proceedings and signalled their intent from the outset with a powerful drive and big tackling on the edge of Durham’s 22. WBR maintained this pressure for some time until a final surge carried them across the Durham line for the first score of the day. The try was not converted so that Durham kicked-off 5-0 down. Their response was as determined as ever and, having regained possession in WBR’s half, they pushed forward via a series of scrums and penalties given away by WBR, gradually driving their opponents back until they were able to release players on the left wing to run in a good team try to level the scores after 5 minutes.
There followed a period of midfield attrition with WBR being punished for an ugly tackle after the ball had passed and getting the rub of the green on some important knock-on decisions. Despite these, Durham were steadily asserting their authority and it was no surprise when sustained driving from the home side took them over WBR’s line for a second try. This was duly converted to give Durham a deserved 12-5 lead after 17 minutes. WBR’s response was to lose their discipline to a degree and employ a series of high tackles which went unpunished until the referee eventually took issue with a particularly aggravated example which left a Durham player requiring attention. What was becoming a far more physical encounter reached half time with Durham holding a 12-5 lead and looking good for it. Midfield battles had dominated the game and WBR’s attacking threat had, up to that point, largely been nullified by determined Durham defending.
Durham kicked-off the second half and paid the price for not waking up quickly enough when WBR gained possession in midfield and released a fast right wing break which left the Durham defence in its wake A successful conversion levelled the scores at 12-12 less than a minute into the second period. Durham responded well, exerting continued pressure on the WBR 22. They then ran in what looked to be a fine try right under WBR’s posts. Although the ‘score’ appeared to satisfy the line judge, it did not satisfy the referee and the scoring player was adjudged to have stepped into the ‘dead zone’ which, judging by the Durham’s experience in getting over the line, must be the next zone you arrive at after the ‘high tackling zone!’ Things had gone far enough and the referee issued a final warning at this point. WBR’s second yellow card of the day followed on from this.
Durham were camped in the WBR half for much of this period and continued pressure almost resulted in another try, the ball being touched down, but unfortunately not past the try line! Despite this pressure, WBR snatched possession in their own half and, evading Durham tackles, sprinted away for another breakaway try to take a 17-12 lead against the run of play. A fourth WBR try followed from determined forward play and driving by WBR, leaving Durham too much to do in the final five minutes of the match despite almost constant pressure in the WBR half and 22 yard areas. WBR ended the match as victors by 22 points to 12.
WB Rockcliff (WBR) arrived at Durham pumped-up and motivated and got the result that they wanted, consigning Durham to their first defeat of the season. Durham fought well but let their guard down for two killer breakaway tries in the second half and their learning continues about
effectiveness of tackling and defensive commitment – and maintaining concentration. However, they can also reflect upon what was a highly controversial match with constant use of high tackles by WBR, two yellow cards for the away team, WBR players committing a number of after the ball infringements and also squaring up to members of the crowd. Durham can also consider themselves very unfortunate that what would have been a crucial third try (which would have regained the lead for the home side at a critical point in the second half), was disallowed, one of a number of significant decisions that didn’t go Durham’s way on the day.
Durham should have won this game and will rue lack of concentration and lapses in midfield tackling which allowed WBR to score three of their four tries. At the same time they must learn to rise to the type of physical challenge provided by WBR whether legitimate – they are a strong and motivated team – or, as was the case on many occasions, not. They must also learn to rise above provocation and bring their talent to bear to deliver their plan and objectives instead of being distracted by opposition tactics.
Having said all this, this was a hard fought game and a good, physical test for Durham……they will be the better for it in the medium term.
Good luck on Sunday against Tynedale……let’s get back to winning ways!