QUARTER FINAL, COUNTY CUP 2017/18
The U-14’s finally returned to action after a frustrating six week interruption to their season resulting from weather issues and cancellations by opposing teams. Their opponents on Sunday were Blaydon who, like Durham, were widely regarded as serious contenders for a semi-final or final place in this season’s County Cup.
Beautiful, bright winter sunshine disguised very chilly conditions at Blaydon’s ground. Players also had to contend with a fairly strong wind which blew diagonally across the pitch throughout the game. That said, the playing surface was pretty well perfect for rugby and the atmosphere amongst both sets of supporters was tense…..no-one felt sufficiently confident to predict the outcome of this match!
Durham’s full available squad travelled to support the team and Blaydon’s recent recruitment of players had clearly added height and strength to their forward line.
Blaydon kicked-off with the wind broadly in their favour and straight away applied steady pressure in Durham’s last third. A series of thrusts and desperate defensive tackles over the space of a couple of minutes were not enough to stop Blaydon making progress down their left flank until, having sucked Durham players into a ruck, they were able to release a quick break down the line and over the try line for touch down 10 yards to the left of Durham’s posts. The score remained 5-0 after 4 minutes as Blaydon failed to convert.
Durham’s response was typical characterful. After absorbing Blaydon’s early pressure they hit back with two fine tries in quick succession. The platform for the first, only two minutes after Blaydon’s score, was a period of strong driving and midfield play dominated by Durham who then released a short diagonal run over Blaydon’s line and a touch down between the posts. A successful conversion moved the score on to 7-5 in Durham’s favour. Seven minutes later the second came from a sharp interception which caught Blaydon completely square. A sprint to the Blaydon try line was followed by touch down right between their posts. All of a sudden Durham had hit back in classic style for a 12-5 lead. Unfortunately the tricky cross wind carried the conversion fractionally wide of Blaydon’s posts.
Blaydon were next to step up a gear in this hard-fought battle. Once again they used their forward strength in depth to draw Durham players into a ruck in the centre of their 22 yard area before breaking through with speed and strength to reduce the deficit to 2 points. This time it was Blaydon’s turn to suffer at the hands of the cross wind and following an unsuccessful conversion the score remained at 10-12. Yet this was only to be a very temporary respite for Durham as a right wing break two minutes later sent Blaydon over Durham’s line once again for a 15-12 lead, rising to 17-12 with their first successful conversion.
Although the first half ended with Blaydon ahead, Durham were still very much in the contest so long as they could find a way of countering Blaydon’s principal tactic – drawing more Durham players into rucks and then quickly exploiting the overlap.
Durham kicked-off the second half and, quickly regaining possession, pressed forward on their left wing deep into Blaydon territory until an unlucky knock-on thwarted their progress. Undeterred, they won the ball back again and again, maintaining pressure until Blaydon’s discipline was found wanting and Durham won a penalty central but no more than 15 yards into the Blaydon half. Despite the distance and windy conditions Durham opted to kick and a great kick sailed right through the centre of Blaydon’s posts to reduce Durham’s deficit to two points with 17 minutes of the match remaining.
Durham weren’t finished there and only desperate defending by Blaydon prevented Durham pressure from driving them over Blaydon’s try line. In a great position and camped five yards out from between Blaydon’s posts, Durham had their tails up and were looking odds-on to score again until, unfortunately, the unsighted referee did not see holding by Blaydon which should have resulted in a penalty right underneath the posts. Instead Blaydon were able to feed the ball out to their right wing which broke strongly down the line and right the way over Durham’s try line for a 22-15 lead with four minutes to go.
Did Durham heads go down? Not at all. They dusted themselves off and resumed their forward driving. Cruelly, they were positioned as ominously as before when an almost identical Blaydon retrieval and break put the game beyond Durham, a successful conversion making the final score 29-15. It could and should have been so different!
Durham were ultimately caught out by two breakaway ‘sucker punch’ tries. On another day they might have had penalties awarded to them very close to Blaydon’s posts – but it was not to be and our participation in this year’s County Cup ended despite a brave and typically gutsy performance.
For their part, Blaydon operated to a game plan which played to their strengths, principally, their abundance of tall, fast and strong forwards. This was a tough match, played in good spirit and good luck to Blaydon in future rounds of the competition.
Although the final score was not in Durham’s favour, they played their part – as they always do - right to the final whistle in a tough and well-contested meeting between what are undoubtedly two of the best teams in the region…….. we know the players will be disappointed, but let’s remind ourselves of a few important things about this tough and talented Under 14 squad…..
1. Durham City U-14’s are a real team and a real squad, the envy of many of the teams we have played over the past few seasons
2. The squad has developed steadily and strongly both in terms of numbers and in terms of skills and abilities…..the future is bright!
3. We are one of the best teams in the region and it appears – rightly or wrongly - that more than one of our main rivals seem to find any excuse to avoid playing us
4. The team plays together and never gives up. We have tremendous character and determination
5. Defeat is a rare experience for us and this season we have never been outplayed!
6. We play the game the right way and I, for one, am proud and pleased to be part of this set-up!
OK…..now that’s out of my system……let’s put this match behind us and prepare to take on West Hartlepool - tough and testing opponents - this Sunday.
Come on Durham!