ONE-POINT home defeats for both of Darlington’s rugby teams last Saturday are likely to prove costly.
On their second outing at The Northern Echo Arena, Mowden Park needed to beat Hull Ionians to stay in contention with the Humbersiders for the promotion play-off spot in National Two North.
But a 28-27 defeat left them ten points adrift of their visitors, while Darlington’s slender hopes of survival in North One East were dealt a fatal blow by the 16-15 defeat against Pocklington.
After losing their first 11 games, Darlington enjoyed a run of three wins in four.
But successive home defeats by Old Crossleyans and Pocklington have halted the momentum and left them with too much to do.
Their next three games are tough with trips to Malton and Norton then Morpeth being followed by the visit of leaders Beverley.
By the time they have the chance to complete doubles over fellow strugglers Middlesbrough and Durham City in April it will be too late, but it hasn’t stopped Darlington securing what they describe as a “substantial” three-year sponsorship deal with Samurai, which will have their name on the first team shirts and all the club’s leisure wear.
After enjoying the big crowds at their new home for the past two weeks, Mowden face the long trek to Herefordshire tomorrow to play Luctonians.
Mowden won the try count 4-3 against Ionians but the experience of the visitors’ back five forwards proved crucial as they retained possession and starved the talented home backs of good ball.
New converts to the game from the previous week’s try-fest probably would not be impressed by the constant use of the Hull club’s pick-and-drive tactic, but it was certainly effective.
Ionians retained the ball early on but after three minutes the first move from the Mowden backs brought a try.
Possession was gained in midfield and Grant Connon skilfully threw out a misspass to Cameron Mitchell, who cut through a gap and sent full back Chris McTurk over.
Hull’s forward pressure allowed them to break away on the blind side of a scrum and level the score after 18 minutes.
The visiting pack battered away and when Mowden prop Dan Miller was sin-binned for transgressing at a maul the visitors launched another series of pick-and-drives to score a converted try.
They scored again shortly after half-time after winning a scrum against the head and with the fly half converting and adding a penalty they suddenly led 22-5.
Connon kicked a penalty for Mowden, but a flare-up after 60 minutes resulted in home winger Shaun McCartney and a visiting centre being sent off.
Ionians kicked another penalty, but they picked up two more yellow cards and Mowden launched a spirited fightback.
McTurk scored a good try wide out then Mitchell touched down after good work by the forwards in retaining possession. Replacement Tom Hodgson converted to reduce the deficit to five points, but Ionians reasserted themselves and earned a crucial penalty under the posts for a scrum infringement.
There was just enough time for Mowden to score their fourth try from flanker Luke Wishnowsky, also converted by Hodgson to earn a second bonus point.
Darlington led 15-3 against Pocklington, who fought back to snatch victory with an injury time penalty.
The hosts were bolstered by the return of Richard Snowball and Tom Wilkinson to the pack, with the former scoring a try just before half-time for a 5-3 lead.
A solo try from his own 22 by winger Matthew Sowerby was converted by Mark Baldwin, who added a penalty on the hour.
The visitors quickly replied then Darlington held out for 15 minutes before conceding the fateful penalty.
Northallerton lost 38-17 away to Leeds Medics & Dentists.
North struggled to put any flowing moves together and had no answer to Medics’ younger, fitter backs.
North opted to keep the ball among their bigger forwards and their three tries were scored by flanker Jack Kitching, second row Martin Dennison and prop Liam Lincoln.
The seconds lost 24-22 at home to Castleford.
North were 19-5 down at half-time before a remarkable comeback gave them a 23-19 lead with five minutes to go.
Unluckily, a wayward pass was intercepted for Castleford to score the winning try.
North’s points came from tries by James Read, Jonathan Merrick and Jim Duggleby, plus two conversions and drop goal by Mullholland.