On another beautiful sunny September Sunday morning, North travelled to take on Cleve in what turned out to be a gargantuan battle, where neither side neither asked for, nor gave, any quarter.
North led at half time and were dominating territory until mid-way through the second half when Cleve broke away to score a converted try against the run of play. From then on in, a titanic battle ensued until Panashe’s last gasp winning try on the final whistle.
Cleve kicked off to start proceedings with the slightest of breezes in their favour. Forward play dominated with neither side gaining the upper hand. North were struck a blow on 12 minutes when talismanic captain, Alfie, was stretchered off with a twisted knee, with Tom Bullock coming on as scrum-half as his replacement.
North threatened the Cleve line on 17 minutes when a neat chip ahead by James was scrambled over the dead ball line by the Cleve defence to present North with a 5m scrum, which unfortunately came to nothing despite North’s dominance in this area.
On 22 minutes, North made the breakthrough after a repeated series of drives when Ollie Sarkar bravely burrowed over the line for the first score of the day. James was narrowly wide with the conversion attempt but North led by 5 points.
The lead was short lived as two minutes later, a loose pass in his own 22 by James allowed Cleve in for their first score. The conversion was missed and the sides were now tied at 5-all.
North responded well and won a series of penalties in the Cleve 22. Eventually they were awarded a 5m penalty which was tapped to Finn who burst his way over near the right corner. From a very wide angle, James was successful with the conversion and North now led 12-5.
Just before half-time, Cleve replied with a try in the right corner; the angle was too wide for the kicker and thus the half-time score was 12-10 to North.
James kicked off to start the second half with Jake, Kai, and Joe Meeks on as replacements with Dougie having replaced Jamie late in the first half. Matt graciously agreed to guest for Cleve on their left wing.
North assumed territorial control, but could not convert this advantage into scores. Then, on 16 minutes, Cleve eventually broke out of defence to score under North’s post, putting the home side into the lead for the first time in the match; 17-12 .
Three minutes later, a clever kick over by James deceived the Cleve defence, allowing the mercurial Tom Bennett, like a flying magician, to swoop down, gather and touch down for a magnificent try in one fleeting, elegant move. Although near the left touchline, James stuck the ball between the posts to restore North to a two-point lead; 19-17.
Cleve were certainly not going to go down without a fight and on 29 minutes, they drove over for their fourth try which was easily converted; 24-19 to Cleve.
At this stage, it looked grim for the brave visitors, especially when Jacob had to retire with a damaged shoulder. He and Mike had been magnificent in the engine room, driving through and knocking back opponents at will. Jacob had also been primary line-out receiver which increased the loss to the team.
North toiled on regardless and were awarded a penalty for a tip tackle in midfield. James duly found a safe touch, but the line-out possession was scrambled until eventually Cleve hacked the ball clear deep into the North half with the clock in overtime.
This, however, precipitated the move of the match with the exhilarating North backs moving the ball swiftly out to the right where the Exocet Panashe received with green grass in front of him. Although still on the halfway line, Panashe seared down the right touchline, leaving a trail of beaten defenders in his wake, and then swung in to touch down under the posts, tying the scores at 24 each. James tapped over the relatively easy conversion as the final whistle blew, to leave North victors by the narrowest of margins 26-24 in this thrilling match which perhaps neither side deserved to lose.
This was a tremendous team performance by North with every man contributing to the team effort. Prop Finn was outstanding in his first match of the season, but fellow prop Jamie also knocked back defenders on numerous occasions. Until the final winning move, the match was largely dominated by superb forward play with the visitors choosing to eschew running rugby to avoid the large Cleve centres; thus the backs had limited opportunities to display their skills. Nevertheless, every player can be proud of their contribution to a fantastic, thrilling victory.
Tries: Ollie S, Finn, Tom Bennett, Panashe
Cons: James (3/4)
Line Up: 1.Jamie 2.Joe Brake 3.Finn 4.Mike 5.Jacob 6.Ollie S 7. Isaac 8.Luke J 9. Alfie 10.James 11.Panashe 12.Tom Bennett 13.Luke W 14.Matt 15.George
Finishers: 16.Tom Bullock 17.Kai 18.Joe Meek 24.Jake 25.Dougie