AFTER the formal speeches and celebratory pre-match dinner, events on the field could easily have spoiled Darlington Mowden Park’s debut at The Northern Echo Arena last Saturday.
Sport has a funny way of raining on parades, and Mowden’s opponents, Bromsgrove, had established their party-pooping credentials by wrecking National Two North leaders’ Stourbridge’s 100 per cent record two games earlier.
Was the rugby going to be a let down? Not a bit of it. From the moment winger Lewis Johnson crossed for Mowden’s first try in the opening minute, the mood of celebration refused to abate. Indeed, if anything, it became even more euphoric as the hosts outscored their opponents by nine tries to one.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything more,” said firstteam coach Danny Brown.
“There was a huge amount of excitement from the players, the members and even the town as a whole. But you just never know which way it’s going to go.
“The average age of our players must be about 22, so you never know if it’s going to overawe them or if they’re going to use it as motivation.
“I think everyone could see how they took it and it was brilliant to see them produce such a great performance for the first game. I just hope people don’t think this is going to happen every week now!”
Nevertheless, Saturday’s performance has surely established a blueprint for Mowden’s future home displays. Always one of the league’s slickest sides with ball in hand, the width of the Arena pitch and the firmness of the playing surface plays to their strengths, and provided the weather does not intervene, running rugby will surely be the name of the game for the remainder of the season.
In South African scrumhalf Zylon McGaffin and talented fly-half Grant Connon, Mowden boast a half-back pairing crying out for an opportunity at a higher level, and from the earliest stages of Saturday’s romp, the duo’s lightness of feet and ability to change pace in an instant was much too much for Bromsgrove’s ponderous defenders to deal with.
McGaffin was involved in Johnson’s opening try, and Connon helped develop the overlap that enabled Chris McTurk to cross on the right shortly after.
Centre Craig Dominic exploited a gaping hole in the Bromsgrove line to score Mowden’s third try, and the bonus point was secured within the opening 20 minutes as Shaun McCartney scored in the corner.
Centre Craig Dominic exploited a gaping hole in the Bromsgrove line to score Mowden’s third try, and the bonus point was secured within the opening 20 minutes as Shaun McCartney scored in the right-hand corner.
Bromsgrove finally got on the scoreboard when prop Stephen Blackburn crashed over shortly before half-time, but a succession of tries from Connor maintained Mowden’s dominance and made it 43-7.
That was the cue for McCartney to take over, and the winger added three late tries to take his personal haul to four, with the pick seeing him race on to Connor’s chip after the fly-half had wriggled free of three defenders.
Connor’s boot was effective throughout, securing a penalty and seven conversions, and the hosts did not appear to miss skipper Junior Fagalilo, who was unavailable because of personal commitments.
Fagalilo should return tomorrow as Mowden entertain second-place Hull Ionians in a rearranged game that could well determine who secures a play-off spot.
“It’s going to be a massive game,” said Brown. “They like to chuck the ball around as well, so it could be quite hairy out there at times because everyone’s seen how our lads like to play.
“I just hope the lads are all fit, well and ready to go. I told them to enjoy themselves on Saturday night, and I’m sure they did, but they know how to look after themselves and come the Hull game, we’ll be ready.”
Meanwhile, Billingham saw off West Hartlepool 34-7 in National Three North, with a flurry of three tries in the final ten minutes giving the scoreline a somewhat one-sided feel.
Paul Dalton opened the scoring for Billingham, but Sam Miller’s try meant West led 7-5 at the break.
However, Billingham cut loose in the second period with Steven Hutchinson, Paul Shepherd, Will Turnbull and Dan Burns all crossing the whitewash to seal an ultimately comfortable win.
It was a bad day for the region’s teams in North One East with Darlington going down 37-20 at home to Old Crossleyans, Durham City losing 12-0 to Morpeth and Middlesbrough finishing on the wrong end of a 49-5 hiding at Beverley