BOTH Darlington clubs will be anxious to follow last Saturday’s home wins with away victories tomorrow.
In Mowden Park’s case a win at Dudley Kingswinford is essential to maintain their promotion drive in National Two North, while Darlington visit Sheffield hoping to step up their belated bid to avoid relegation.
After losing their first 11 games in North One East and having five points deducted, Darlington have won three of the last four and the 17-12 win against Wheatley Hills was a huge turnaround after losing 85-5 to the Doncaster-based club in September.
Mowden cruised to a 40-10 win against Birmingham-Solihull and it increasingly looks as though they are in a twohorse race with Hull Ionians for a promotion play-off place.
The home match against Ionians has been re-scheduled for February 9 – the week after Mowden will make their debut at The Northern Echo Arena against Bromsgrove.
They therefore have one match left at Yiewsley Drive, which they should again win easily against second-bottom Huddersfield next week.
Ten of Saturday’s team were aged no more than 22 and one of the most eye-catching performances came from last year’s Barnard Castle School captain Guy Van Den Dries. He began the season at No 8 but Mowden have such a glut of back row talent that he has been moved into the second row, where both he and Chris Campbell compensate for a lack of beef through sheer ability and commitment.
Behind them Rory Duff was in outstanding form at No 8, as was scrum half Zylon McGaffin, who was clearly determined to justify his selection from the outset two days after returning from a month in South Africa.
Birmingham - Solihull showed some enterprise of their own in a lively opening, but they shot themselves in the foot during a ten-minute period either side of half-time.
They conceded a penalty to go 15-3 down then their restart was kicked straight back to them and two players got in a tangle, allowing the ball to rebound to powerful winger Shaun McCartney. He romped 45 metres up the right touchline to score.
Shortly after the break the visitors had two men sinbinned in the space of a minute, resulting in two further tries and ending the game as a contest.
Duff scored the first try from close range after flanker Luke Wishnowsky made a break supported by Van Den Dries, who also took a long pass from Grant Connon to send centre Cameron Mitchell in for the second.
McCartney’s try made it 20-3 at half-time and the bonus point try came straight after the second yellow card.
From halfway, the penalty was kicked high to the left corner, where winger Lewis Johnson gathered it to score.
McGaffin nipped over before Birmingham were restored to full strength and scored a catch-and-drive try.
Connon landed his second penalty before making way for Tom Hodgson, who converted the sixth and final try, which was a fitting reward for full back Chris McTurk’s lively enterprise.
After conceding 650 points in their first 11 games, Darlington have greatly improved their defence and will need to maintain it tomorrow as they lost 70-7 at home to Sheffield.
For the return fixture much will depend on which players make the trip. It was of great benefit to have both Richard Snowball and Tom Wilkinson available last week.Their experience helped the pack to more than hold their own, while among the young backs Arun Keans had his best game at scrum half and colt Jack Tully made an encouraging debut at full back.
Lock Chris Anderson finished a catch-and-drive before the visitors scored twice to lead 12-5 at half-time.
After 56 minutes Darlington ran the ball from their own 22 and winger Matthew Sowerby beat three men in racing over from halfway.
Keans scored the winning try eight minutes later when he got on the end of a series of passes in midfield and made a diagonal run to the posts, with Henry Carver converting.
Northallerton had ten regulars unavailable for the trip to Goole, even having to call on some third team players to visit the side who are third in Yorkshire Three. Outplayed in the backs and even, for a change, in the forwards, North lost 52-5, one of their worst defeats in recent years.
Their only try came from stand-in scrum half and club vice-chairman, Rob Close, who was grateful for the valiant efforts of those who made the trip.