Westoe Pack Proves the Difference
By dave barnes
Powerful Performance Keeps Rampant Northern at Bay
South Shields Westoe travelled to league contenders Northern looking to reverse the home defeat earlier in the season. With Westoe’s recent strength and Northern’s consistent form, this was a game that was destined to be a close run affair.
Westoe exploded into life from the first whistle with a Luke Moffett break taking them within five metres of the home side’s line, and there they stayed for the next nine minutes.
With a series of six scrums, Westoe shunted Northern backwards at a rate of knots; however, the home side either spun the scrum past the ninety or just stood up, disrupting any forward momentum.
Westoe crossed the line on four occasions, but a determined Northern defence managed to hold them up every time, until the pressure eventually told and Sam Gaff picked from the base and drove over for the score. 0-5
Northern struck back immediately with a massive show of lively back-play, moving the ball at a high tempo and varying the attack, testing Westoe’s defence to the full. Westoe tackled like demons, Haydn Richards and Joe McKenzie causing the most damage to the tireless opposition.
Both Westoe and Northern started at a tremendous pace and this became the template for a great spectacle; Westoe’s pack dominating and shunting Northern back and the home side spinning the ball looking for any gap to exploit.
The next score didn’t come until 28 minutes into the half, Westoe again drove Northern’s scrum back, only a good pick-up from Ellis saving them. A long clearance was collected by Paul Evans who was brought down on the half-way line. Drives from Andy Sutherland and Raymie Elliott broke the home side’s line and Elliott spun the ball to Jamie Preston, finishing the move to score. Converted 0-12
Straight from the kick-off another dominant scrum set up some startling handling and a great McKenzie break, almost going all the way, but offloading to Preston for his second of the day. 0-17
It was deja-vu for the last play of the half, Westoe destroying Northern’s scrum, forcing them to play with scrappy ball and allowing Andy Sutherland to make a great interception and pass to McKenzie for another storming run, this time touching down himself for the bonus point and comfortable half time lead. Converted 0-24 HT
Many in the crowd were now discussing a cricket score as Westoe appeared to be in total control of the match, despite some superb rugby from the home side. Northern, however, had a different idea and they started the second half with as much gusto as Westoe did earlier in the day.
With a poor kick-off reception, Westoe conceded an immediate penalty, which Northern kicked to the corner. A clean catch and powerful maul drove them across the line, Wilson touching down for their first score in under two minutes. Converted 7-24
Westoe struck back straight away, this time Preston securing the restart and with quick recycled ball, Joe McKenzie again broke the first line of the defence and linked with Paul Evans, who returned the pass for McKenzie to score his second. Converted 7-31
In a ping-pong six minutes of the half, Northern responded again at the restart earning a scrum and despite again being shunted backwards, Ellis secured the ball at the base and found winger, Tang, who showed his pace to keep the match alive. Converted 14-31
In a frantic, exiting match, both sides threw their all in attack and defended well, with very few missed tackles from either team.
After a squeaky clean first half, conceding only three penalties, Westoe suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the whistle, and despite dominating the scrum were penalised several times. Northern, realising that they could disrupt the scrum without being chastised were savvy enough to nullify any advantage by spinning it ninety at every opportunity.
Westoe received their first yellow card of the day for feet in the ruck after fifteen minutes and Northern managed to up the already fast and furious pace another notch. Kicking to the corner again, they set up another driving maul and, when stopped, went blind with Smallwood crossing in the corner, shrugging off two defenders; with the subsequent kick bouncing off the posts bringing them to within two scores of a potentially amazing comeback. 19-31
With just under ten minutes to play and the home side threatening with every play, Westoe received a penalty close to the half-way line. With the game still in the balance, Sutherland stepped up for the long range attempt that took the visitors to a three score lead and made any comeback unlikely. 19-34
Westoe received a second yellow card with minutes left to play and Northern continued their assault, with Walker taking a quick tap and finding White out wide, crossing to earn the well-deserved bonus point for their fourth try. 24-34 FT
An amazing and exiting match between two committed teams who gave their all in both attack and defence. Westoe continue their current run of good form, with a powerful forward display and all-round defensive prowess. The first half is up there as one of the best performances the side has played, which bodes well for their National Final play-off against Kenilworth in two weeks’ time.
Northern showed true passion and grit in the second half and were unlucky to meet Westoe at their best in the run in to the league promotion spots and their performance showed why they are still in the fight.
Congratulations to James Long who made his debut off the bench in what can only be described as a baptism of fire.
Next Saturday Westoe face Medicals at home and although out of the promotion spots could still finish a credible fourth in a much improved and competitive league. In a game where consistency matters they will rue the dip in form pre-Christmas and will head into next season knowing they are more than capable of making the step up.