1stXV v Darlington Mowden Park, Sat Sep 17, 15:00, Match Preview
This Saturday sees Ampthill welcome Darlington Mowden Park to Dillingham Park.
Darlington Grammar School Old Boys was founded in 1950, 1970 saw the club buy land and build a pitches and a clubhouse at a site in Mowden, to the West of Darlington. At the same time the club changed it’s name to Mowden Park RFC, a more appropriate name as the club was no longer just for Old Boys. The last decade of the 20th century saw on field success with the club eventually promoted to level 4 in the rugby pyramid (then National 3 North, now National 2 North) and another renaming, to the current Darlington Mowden Park.
The year 2000 began a remarkable series of Tetley Bitter Cup runs with DMP reaching the 5th round in 2000 and the fourth round in both 2001 and 2002, all three times losing to much higher ranked opposition.
During the noughties the club’s role in the community expanded with a thriving mini & youth section fielding squads from U7 to U18 and four adult sides. More recently U15 & U18 girls squads have been established as well as the Sharks, the ladies squad.
In 2012, a too good to be refused offer on their Yiewsley Road ground from a developer was followed by a planned move to West Park falling through, at this point an audaciously entrepreneurial plan was conceived and executed to acquire the 25,000 seater Northern
Echo Arena, previously home to Darlington FC, plus sufficient ground locally to accommodate all 21 squads. It is a matter of record that the Arena was purchased for £1m in December 2013!
The concept of a then level 4 club playing in modern stadium with better facilities and a larger capacity than just about any Premiership club was a hard one to get ones head around but all credit must go the visionaries that drove the move and the subsequent on field success.
DMP’s on field performance saw them finish 2nd in National 2 North in 2013-14 which secured a place in the end of season playoff for the third National 1 promotion spot. Their opponents in the playoff were none other than Ampthill who had finished 2nd in National 2 South. In an extraordinary co-incidence Ampthill had travelled to Darlington for a pre-season fixture played in the NEA in August 2013 where, for what it was worth, the visitors had secured a narrow victory.
In front of an enormous (by National 2 standards) crowd containing a goodly fraction of the population of Ampthill, a titanic struggle ensued which was only settled by a try to the hosts in the 3rd minute of time added on at the end of 10 minutes each way extra time, the game ending 25-25 after 80 minutes. The long, quiet bus journey home remains vivid in Ampthill players & supporters memories.
DMP returned the pre-season favour by visiting Dillingham Park for an August 2014 pre-season fixture running out narrow winners.
In the corresponding game last season Amps ran out 32-20 winners in another tight game, however, the return fixture was anything but tight with Mowden Park racing to a 33-3 lead and try bonus point after just 28 minutes, A;s responding with 26 unanswered points to bring the score back to 33-29 by 54 minutes, securing a 4 try bonus point of their own before the home side added their 6th & 7th tries to leave the score 45-29 at no side!
This season Park have a played 2 won 1 record, they lost 16-10 away to local rivals Hull Ionians but defeated another local side, Blaydon, 15-14 with a last play of the game penalty goal.
Having recorded two victories, just, after their own last minute penalty goal win at Old Albanians last Saturday, Ampthill have made a good start to the new season, however, they are very unlikely to play as badly and win again. An error strewn performance left the coaching group underwhelmed, perhaps that explains the number of changes to the first team squad this week.
There are 4 changes in the pack, 2 in the backs and 3 on the bench. Up front, Aleki Lutui moves to hooker with Matt Collins making his first start of the season at prop. Josh Walker makes his debut in the second row while Loti Molitika packs down alongside his brother Maama at blindside. In the backs, Ben Calder & Joe Daniels make their first starts at scrum half and wing respectively. Vili Ma’asi, Rob Green and Gavin Williams all rotate to the bench.