WELCOME I am pleased to offer a hearty welcome to North Shields, as I'm pretty sure they're newcomers to Acklam Park, For some years our visitors flirted with all three leagues of the Durham/Northumberland division but for the past eight seasons were ensconced in D/N 2. And then last year they made a breakthrough, finishing second to Rockcliff, having persistently threatened their neighbours for the honour of finishing top dog. They won 22 of their league matches amassing a grand total of 1,035 points in the process to finish with 114 points and a positive points difference of 620 – quite a record.
This season, after tough pre-season matches against Ryton (twice) and Morpeth our visitors continued their good league form to win their opening fixture 24-20 against Barnard Castle. Unfortunately they've lost their last four games, scoring 30 points but conceding 198 to boot. I should point out that the 'against' column does include 71 scored by high-flyers Northern. Other defeats were against Rovers, Westoe and then 17-38 against Novos last week. Today I hope we all have a smile on our face after a thoroughly entertaining game with lots of tries.
LADIES DAY I am sure you will have noticed the glamorous ladies with us this afternoon. I am delighted to welcome them all to an event rekindled after a few years, and also that the 'sold out' signs went up a while ago. They started their afternoon at 1pm and I am sure it will be an amazing day, that they will thoroughly enjoy themselves and that they will raise lots of money in aid of the Willow Foundation and Zoe's Place; for a small fee players and other gentlemen are invited to join them for a convivial evening of good food and a disco/karaoke. We hope the event becomes an annual fixture which encourages more of the ladies to visit us more often in future.
LEAGUE RUGBY On Friday we helped to launch Stockton's new floodlights. Theirs are more multi-purpose than ours. It's true they light their training pitch but its marked out for several sports, with posts that are soccer goal posts, extended upwards by a few inches for rugby, making Toddy's job to judge kicks for goal just a little bit more difficult. We lost a close match and overall we probably couldn't complain about the result (although Rohan could – some say should – have been awarded a penalty try at the end). It was a tense first half, with Stockton turning around 3-0 ahead. The third quarter proved to be the most decisive period of the game, with our hosts storming into a 21-0 lead, courtesy of two tries, one conversion and three penalties. But we never say never. That was the end of Stockton's scoring and tries from Ali and Jamie, both converted by Baggy, made for a nail-biting finale and earned us a bonus point. That's five bonus points in five games whilst we've not conceded any to our opponents.
A fortnight ago we welcomed Rockcliff with eager anticipation for an all-action festival of open and exciting rugby, as between us we'd notched up 117 points the week previous. And, true to form, our visitors fizzed around the field, keeping the ball alive at every opportunity. Their passing was crisp and decisive with hardly any dropped balls or knock-ons. They had an efficient pack which secured them plenty of ball; it included Craig Hamilton at No5, who played six times for Scotland, including against the All Blacks, in 2005 when he was at Newcastle Falcons. As a result of so much ball they enjoyed at least 60-65 per cent possession. I say enjoyed, but in fact despite having the lions share of the ball they struggled to make any headway against our defence; nor did they cope with the direct and incisive running of our backs. Consequently we scored our bonus point try on the half hour and went into the break 26-6 ahead. We added another four tries in the second period before Rockcliff crossed for two of their own to make the final score 54-20. Sean Maloney scored a hat trick, young Micklewright got a brace with Pete, Jamie and Myles also crossing the line. Baggy chipped in with seven conversions.
Our Wasps were on CANDY league duty last week, at home to old friends Percy Park. It turned into another of those 'games of two halves'! We were 7-0 up almost from the KO and although our visitors equalised with captain Toby Tremlett marshalling the side we played some great rugby in a blistering first period, scoring three more tries to go into the break 26-12 in front. The second half was a different matter altogether. Park spent most of it battering away at our defence, eventually crossing for another try at the end of the third quarter, which was a just reward for sterling work. However, not to be outdone, we scored another two tries before our opposition got a final one at the very end of the match to make the final score 40-24. The irrepressible Stumpy chalked up his fifth try of the season, which, with his two conversions, make him top scorer for the Wasps with 29 points. And I must mention Will Deeks, who slotted over the conversions from all angles (mostly from the touch line) missing only once.
JUNIORS I am pleased to report that the U16s have joined forces with Acklam. Currently both squads have low numbers so have got together to form a super-squad to guarantee competitive rugby this season. After a couple of very good and fruitful training sessions the mood in the camp is positive. They played their first game against Consett at Acklam on Sunday morning; talk about a game of two halves – they held a respectable 28-7 lead at the break but in the end lost a very close encounter by 35-37. It is a promising start for the lads and I hope they enjoy many more matches as the season progresses.
CLUB NEWS Our first social event of the season two weeks ago was DARTS NIGHT. It was difficult to follow events – those oh-so tasteful psychedelic shirts were blindingly colourful – but after some fabulous matches the final was fought out between Shaun Kay and Eric Leach; Shaun emerged victorious and performed a victory dance the like of which has never before been seen in Acklam Park. In two weeks, after the Medicals game, there is a RUGBY SING SONG night, and the following afternoon, Sunday 27 October, we have a HALLOWEEN SPOOK-TACULAR CHILDREN'S FANCY DRESS AND DISCO PARTY. And then we're into November and our fabulous BONFIRE NIGHT before our delightful December of fun-filled festivities swings into action.
The Chairman apologises for his absence but if you've been following the Facebook adventures of those intrepid explorers Till and Will, out in the wilds of Japan, you'll know he is not exactly roughing it, even though they've encountered menus they can't understand, meals of raw horse meat, and ice cream flavoured with tea, for goodness sake. I'm sure there'll be a few more stories emerging before their journey ends.
REFEREE'S CORNER I am delighted to welcome Andy Williamson back to Acklam Park for his third visit. He has been a referee for four years, before which he played at No8 for Ripon. In his spare time Andy is a telecommunications engineer! I hope he enjoys his afternoon with us.