Durham City U15's v Hartlepool - County Cup Final, by Phil Spooner
By David Garrity
CHAMPIONS!....... They did it!
DURHAM CITY U-15’s vs HARTLEPOOL OLD BOYS
DURHAM COUNTY CUP FINAL: SUNDAY APRIL 28th, 2019
DURHAM CITY 28 – HARTLEPOOL OLD BOYS 12
CHAMPIONS!....... They did it! Durham City U-15’s are the worthy winners of this year’s County Cup, seeing off a tough, tenacious Old Boys (OB’s) side that made Durham fight every minute and for every inch in a gripping finale to the U-15’s season.
Durham arrived at the final courtesy of some truly great rugby when it really counted. They passed a big test of character to withstand and then overcome a determined Sunderland side at Ashbrooke and then simply overwhelmed main rivals West Hartlepool in a semi-final which Durham owned from the first minute to the last.
Despite a mid-session lull, Durham were very very focused when it mattered in the County Cup and their motivation and determination was clear for all to see as the competition entered its final stages. Durham certainly appeared to want this cup more than anyone and their performances reflected this. There were none of their infamous slow starts, no switching-offs after half time and being outmuscled in key areas; Durham were just great. From the moment they ran out of their changing room, through their pre-match huddle and roars to the wonderful, flowing performances, they were up for it 100% and how!
The two teams had not met for some years and both had emerged as forces within the region, so it was impossible to speculate or compare strengths to any great degree – but both came to the final having played and won some very tough and tricky matches.
The neutral venue provided by Old Jarrovians in Hebburn was bathed in spring sunshine as the teams warmed up. Both squads were full. Durham’s 22 was supported by other team members and a good turnout of parents and other supporters within what was easily Durham’s largest crowd of the season.
Conditions were reasonably good although a cross field breeze was strong enough to cause problems for kickers. Other than that, the pitch was moist and even. The match was refereed independently, and the tension, butterflies and other signs of nerves were growing……perhaps more amongst supporters than the guys on the pitch though!
The match began just after 12 noon with Durham hoisting the ball deep towards OB’s 22. Although Durham put most of the early pressure on OB’s, forcing half clearances and then mounting renewed attacks, neither side was able to assert their authority for the first quarter of the match. Durham reached OB’s 22 frequently but were rarely able to penetrate it and OB’s attacking efforts were mainly confined to chasing after clearances. OB’s then stepped up a gear and pushed Durham hard in their 22 but the lads were up to the challenge even when OB breaks made a lot of ground fast, a 50 yard charge at one point being halted by a hastily organised but effective Durham defence.
Durham finally broke the deadlock after 16 minutes with a cross field move looking as though it had come to nothing until a fine low pick-up caught OB’s unprepared and left Durham with a diagonal run through OB’s 22 on the left wing then a run round to touch down right under OB’s posts. Durham’s sheer persistence on this attack had been rewarded. A fine kick gave Durham a very welcome 7-0 lead.
Durham kept it tight on the restart, denying OB’s any hope of an instant response. Several minutes of midfield slog followed before Durham pushed down the left wing and released a fast break down an ever-tightening channel, but speed and determination won through and Durham were over again, 10 yards in from the wing. A 12-0 lead increased to 14-0 with a great conversion and Durham’s tails were most definitely up!
Only five minutes remained in the first half and Durham saw these out comfortably – although that doesn’t do justice to the tough tackling and strenuous efforts required to nullify OB’s thrusts.
Durham knew that, as the second half began, they had to guard against any complacency and could not afford to let OB’s back into the match – and they took the game to OB’s with a series of drives into the OB’s half until, with only 5 minutes played, they scored their third try of the match.
Another great pick-up on the wing backed up by speed and focus took them over only 5 yards from OB’s left wing for a 19-0 lead. Yet another quality conversion increased their lead to 21-0.
Despite the score, this match was certainly not over yet and OB’s ever-present threat translated into a score five minutes later. From a Durham line out on OB’s 22, OB’s won a penalty and kicked it to within 10 yards of Durham’s 22 on their right wing. OB’s collected the ball and pushed hard towards Durham’s line. Despite great efforts, Durham were unable to stop an OB roll to plant the ball over right by Durham’s posts. A straightforward conversion put OB’s right back in the game with 20 minutes left.
Durham were weathering a bit of a storm as OB’s sensed a way back into the match. Play went backwards and forwards between the two 22’s until, recovering possession on their left wing, Durham kicked and chased on the left and only narrowly missed a try as OB’s grounded the ball first. Yet Durham were on the up and mounted constant pressure from their resulting 5 yard scrum. This proved too much for OB’s and a quick release and drive through gave Durham a vital fourth try and conversion for a 28-7 lead with only 11 minutes left on the clock.
But the drama wasn’t over as Durham received a yellow card soon after for repeated infringements and were therefore reduced to 14 men. OB’s pushed forward to exploit this advantage and were only thwarted temporarily by repeated desperate but effective Durham tackles…..Durham had one hand on the cup and weren’t giving it up easily!
Nevertheless, OB’s made their advantage count shortly afterwards as they were awarded a penalty only 10 yards out. Their power play took them over from there for a 28-12 score line. Crucially, however, their conversion was unsuccessful so that they had to score a minimum of three times with just over 5 minutes left. This proved to be too much of a mountain to climb and Durham held OB’s fairly comfortably until the whistle blew……confirming that Durham were 2019 County Champions!
Durham won this hard-fought contest fairly and squarely. Although there was never much in it between these two tough, determined and effective sides, Durham had more offensive options and threat across the pitch from more players and they were deserved winners, just as they had deservedly triumphed in all their cup matches this season.
What a great way to end the season. Durham showed what a really good, tough, resilient but multi-talented team they are and immense credit goes to the players and to their coaches combined. I know just how much commitment there is around this great club and it is absolutely fantastic – and very much deserved that their efforts have been rewarded by success in the top club competition that they play in.
Very very well done and, not for the first time this season - but certainly for the most important time - we are immensely proud of you….very well done! Enjoy!