After an encouraging preseason campaign, it was an opening day to forget for Westoe as injuries & unavailability consigned the visitors to defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough.
Throughout the summer months, the coaching team had remarked on numerous occasions how positive they were feeling due to the number of players available, some new faces, many old, however, as gameweek 1 approached, a story similar to the end of last season would curtail that theme. Graeme Smith had tough decisions to make with enough forwards available for two packs, however, due to injuries and unavailability, the backs were less fortunate.
Despite a string of key players missing in the back division, Westoe started well playing into a stiff breeze. The forwards seemed to have found their groove straight from the off with a string of big carries causing Middlesbrough’s problems.
With Westoe on top, Middlesbrough began to concede a series of penalties which allowed Westoe to kick their way down the pitch. With territory secured, the Westoe lineout was again working well with Younghusband, Rumis and Gaff dominating the aerial set piece battle. A Westoe penalty was kicked into touch 15m from the Middlesbrough try line, a smart lineout move set up a drive which rumbled over the home sides whitewash for the games first score. Mark Bentham was the last man up with the ball, scoring his first try for the club following his return to Westoe from Gateshead. Conversion missed. 0-5
Middlesbrough, keen to stake their claim in a game that to this point was passing them by, responded immediately. With Westoe defending tightly, the powerful inside centre saw an opportunity to open the pitch, throwing a miss pass and put the winger into space. Still with some work to do, the receiving winger isolated his opposite man, broke through a tackle, smartly offloading back inside to the outside centre to score a well worked try. The wind playing it’s part as the home side also missed their conversation, honours even.
The remainder of the first half, Middlesbrough were camped in the Westoe 22m. The Westoe defence held firm with dominant hits driving Middlesbrough back time and time again. The Westoe scrum and lineout again forced Middlesbrough into mistakes. The Westoe line out were once again spoiling Middlesbrough ball, with JY & Gaff commanding the unity, the visitors cleared their lines.
Westoe had managed to work themselves up to half way and with the last play of the first half Westoe had a penalty advantage. As Westoe secured positive field position, they looked to make it count, as last years second row pairing JY & Kirton worked well to gain yards. As his pass worked last years captain into space, Andy Sutherland supported well, finishing Kirton’s pass under the posts . The conversion ending the first half with Westoe leading 5-12.
The second half began with a Middlesbrough kickoff which hung in the wind and ended up straight back into their possession. After phases of play on both sides of the ball, Westoe produced a sloppy turnover, with the impressive home sides fly half spotting space behind the Westoe defence. Quick thinking, impressive execution & a fortunate bounce allowed the speedy back three to pounce, with some clever interplay, Middlesbrough levelled the score. 12-12.
Despite a tight game, Westoe were clearly winning the upfront battle. ‘Boro changed their entire front row, hoping to liven up a set piece that to this point was under serious pressure. Performing much fairer were the backline, wave of well practised and forceful running was making progress, despite well organised defence. Another unfortunate element of last season, ill discipline, would still play its part. A yellow card for a late hit on the home sides stand off who’s influence was growing, allowed Middlesbrough to take advantage and score another converted try. 19-12.
As Middlesbrough took the lead for the first time in the game, a ding-dong battle would see Westoe respond well. Strong carrying and smart lines of running stretched Middlesbrough defensively, as Westoe marched up the field, but a plethora of mistakes in the Middlesbrough red zone would result in matching turnovers of possession. Sutherland decided to capitalise on territory when receiving possession once more, kicking a 40m penalty to make it a four point game. 19-15.
A tiring contest with challenging conditions resulted in gridlock around half way. After an arduous ten minute spell, Westoe saw the opportunity to make it a one point game, another 40m shot at goal, this time drifting just wide in the Teeside wind.
Desperate to retain possession, Westoe applied pressure. With the clock ticking, & Middlesbrough wanting to claim the bonus point, the home sides scrum half farted through a gap from the base of the breakdown. With a simple pass down the blindside on, his execution failed him, as the ball looked to bobble harmlessly towards touch. A winger who had been a strong performer all day displayed quick thinking to seize on the stray ball, breaking free of defence, dotting down, ensuring the perfect start for the unfancied hosts. 26-15.
A disappointing day but one coaches Judson & Smith won’t ponder on for too long. With a number of players due back into the building Tuesday, including regulars in the back three Moffett & Rannigan, returning from an impressive season of rugby league, it’s hoped their influence can inspire a bounce back victory.
Don’t forget to join us at Woods Terrace next Saturday as we welcome Stockton RFC to town. As a new era begins under chairman Derek Tighe, the club stalwart would like to extend a warm Westoe welcome to faces old and new from Saturday and beyond.