1stXV Gain 4 Try Bonus Point But Go Down In The Northern Echo Arena, Again
Ampthill travelled to the NEA on a dry, cold, windless afternoon laced with hazy sunshine. Changes to last weeks squad saw Jack Culverhouse start at loosehead with Kennet O’Neill at blindside and Sydney Blackmore at openside with Darrel Dyer moving to the wing for Jonathan Morgan who moved to fullback. Ralph Adams-Hale was released by England U20 for this weekend where he was joined in the bench by the rotated Matthew Burke.
Ampthill started well taking the lead with a 7th minute penalty goal from flyhalf Joseph Tarrant with the first 10 minutes or so being played exclusively in the home side’s half.
However, the following 20 minutes saw the visitors concede 5 tries seemingly unable to make effective first up tackles. The hosts superb support play and ruthless finishing not withstanding, this was the worst defensive display of recent seasons.
Mowden Park’s lock Rob Conquest (13 minutes), fullback James Barnard (15), flanker Simon Uzokwe (18 & 28) and lock Sebastien Ferreira (22) all scored fine tries which started with line breaks. Having got in behind the defense the offloading and support play was a joy to watch if you were wearing blue & white, the defense effort not so much! Flyhalf Warren Seals converting four of the five, his only failure being from wide out.
Trailing 33-3 Ampthill showed great character and responded by going back to basics, using set piece superiority together with the pack working the fringes around the breakdown, Amps struck back with a 34th minute try from centre Maxwell Wilkins who was in the right place after a lineout catch & drive was stopped on the goal line, Tarrant adding the extras.
From the kick off A’s were soon back deep in the hosts 22, the resulting pressure saw the home side reduced to 14 players on 37 minutes. The visitors kicked the penalty to the corner, won the lineout and took advantage of the extra man to drive over for a 38th minute unconverted try touched down by flanker Kennet O’Neill wide on the right.
With the restart secured Ampthill worked the ball through the forwards back into home territory where yet another infringement at a break down led to a last kick of the half penalty goal attempt from replacement William Maisey which came up short leaving the score 33-15 at the break.
Amps began the second period with their tails up scoring two more converted tries with the help of a string of free kick & penalty offences awarded against the Mowden Park pack, including three consecutive penalties in the red zone which, on another day, might have seen a penalty try or yellow card or both!
The first saw O’Neill come up with the ball again on 42 minutes after a repeat of the lineout catch & drive of the first half, Maisey converting from the touch line.
The second, with the hosts restored to a full complement, came on 54 minutes after multiple forward drives in the red zone created space for Tarrant to slip his cover for a try halfway between the left corner flag and post, Maisey adding the extras.
With the score 33-29 with 20 minutes to play both sets of spectators had ridden a roller coaster of emotions and no one could have confidence in what would come next.
A’s were soon back on the attack but a change in the front rows for both sides had evened up the set piece with the home side awarded a penalty at a midfield scrum on the visitors 10m line. Having kicked for the corner the hosts raised their level again and put A’s under pressure with a series of lineout catch & drives of their own while Ampthill were unable to clear their lines and gain some relief.
On 68 minutes Mowden Park re-established a clear lead when eighthman Oliver Hodgson crashed over from close range, Seals adding the extras.
The restart saw Amps reduced to 14 players after the referee took issue with an aerial challenge. The resulting penalty was kicked deep into A’s territory and the lineout catch & drive tactic saw more pressure piled on the visiting defence resulting in the visitors going down to 13 players on 73 minutes.
A well coached team should have no problem in scoring with a two man advantage and that’s what happened in the 77th minute when replacement Joe Craggs was driven over wide out for an unconverted try.
The game was called off a minute early by agreement with the two captains and the referee after a serious looking injury to Ampthill’s fullback, fortunately after assessment he was allowed to join his colleagues for the journey home.
A bizarre game which saw each team have periods of complete dominance, a neutral spectator would have enjoyed the best part of a point a minute while both sides coaches will no doubt spend far longer analysing some pretty ordinary defense.
Head Coach Paul Turner commented “Despite putting Mowden Park under pressure for the first 10 minutes our defense was slack everywhere with one on one tackling and general work rate unacceptable for the next 20. Our fightback came with two tries both sides of halftime leaving just a 4pt deficit and everything to play for. Unfortunately we lost our nerve, shape and discipline resulting in two players leaving the field for disciplinary reasons during the last 10 minutes. Our error count was simply not good enough, especially playing away from home against a quality side. Joe Tarrant had a fine game along with Aleki Lutui and Kennet O’Neill.”
Darlington Mowden Park
Tries:- Conquest(13), Barnard(15), Uzokwe(18,28), Ferreira(22), Hodgson(68), Craggs(77)
Conversions:- Seals (13,19,22,28,68)
Tries:- Wilkins (34), O’Neill (38,42), Tarrant (54)
Conversions:- Tarrant (34), Maisey (42,54)
Penalty:- Tarrant (7)
Half Time:- 33-15
Referee:- Matthew Turvey
Star Man:- Joseph Tarrant