England have victory snatched from grasp

Darlington and Stockton Times: SPEEDY BREAK: England Counties’ Chris Johnson in action against Ireland Club XV at The Northern Echo Arena last Friday – Picture: Stuart Boulton SPEEDY BREAK: England Counties’ Chris Johnson in action against Ireland Club XV at The Northern Echo Arena last Friday – Picture: Stuart Boulton

AFTER making a huge success of staging the England Counties XV v Ireland Clubs match, Darlington Mowden Park return to the business of gaining promotion tomorrow.

They are at home to Sedgley Park, who are one place below them in National Two North, and will hope that some of last Friday’s first-time visitors to The Northern Echo Arena will return.

A crowd of 4,826 was twice what they expected and the Counties XV coach, Steve Pope, said: “The venue was fantastic and the club have looked after us really well. It has been a fantastic occasion and it’s a really great venue for the players.”

Mowden secretary Kevin Robinson added: “Many congratulations to all those involved in the organisation of the game and huge credit also to the many volunteers who assisted on the night. They all contributed to making it a tremendous success.”

The only slight disappointment was that a tense game ended with the England side having victory snatched from their grasp with the final kick, deep into injury time.

After losing by one point in France three weeks earlier, the Counties suffered the same when the Irish fly half David Joyce landed his sixth penalty Coventry’s Luke Myring looked to have sealed an England win when he kicked a penalty five minutes earlier Mowden skipper Cameron Mitchell was again selected on the right wing rather than his usual position of centre and always made good ground on the few occasions he had the ball.

He was replaced with 15 minutes left, when the rash of substitutions also saw his club colleague Pierce Phillips, from Great Ayton, sent on for his first taste of Counties rugby.

He took over from Blaydon lock Chris Wearmouth, who comes from Eastgate in Weardale and received warm applause when he came off.

He was later named Man of the match, although the individual who caught the eye most was Cinderford centre Jack Adams, a former England Sevens player who has appeared in the Premiership for Gloucester.

The lead kept changing hands and the Counties trailed 14-12 until a good move ended with Adams racing under the posts with 25 minutes left.

It was their third try and the Irish scored only one, when a centre capitalised on turnover ball and raced outside his marker on halfway and had a clear run to the line.

But the Counties transgressed far too often at the breakdown and the powerful boot of Joyce proved decisive for a team assembled from old-established clubs like Old Belvedere, Lansdowne and Cork Constitution.

“It was very frustrating,” said Pope.

“We probably didn’t get the rub of the green but we can’t afford to make the number of mistakes that we did in the second half.

“But credit to the Irish, they were never going to go away.

The frustration is that the players have put in so much in a short space of time and they still haven’t got a result.

“But there is lots to work on building towards the summer tour. Hopefully we can keep that group together as a building block.”

After not playing for two weeks, Mowden have slipped to third place but have a game in hand on promotion rivals Macclesfield and Stourbridge, who meet in Cheshire tomorrow.

Full back Henry Robinson is fit again and Mowden will have to decide whether to pitch him straight back into the starting line-up after his three-month lay-off.

Since losing at Macclesfield in the opening match the only defeat has been by two points at Sedgley in November and the Manchester club looked like featuring in the promotion battle prior to losing their last three games.

Darlington have also been out of action for the last two weeks and will resume at Gosforth tomorrow, where they will be looking to end a run of five away defeats.

Northallerton’s only fixture last Saturday was away to Whitby and they sent a team consisting of mostly third teamers with a few second team players who were short of match practice.

The home team had the faster backs and won 19-17, although Northallerton looked dangerous for most of the game though their larger forwards.

Heroic last-ditch tackling from Jack Cornforth, Martin Connor and Joe Harker restricted Whitby to two first half tries and North came back into the game just before half time, with Ben Merritt scoring under the posts for Jedd Bainbridge to convert.

In the second half, North kept the ball in the forwards with some excellent rucking and powerful mauls. The second row partnership of Ben Merritt and Adam Massey exchanged passes for Massey to touchdown.

Bainbridge again converted then kicked a long-range penalty ten minutes before time for a 17-12 lead. But Whitby came straight back and scored a converted try to clinch victory.

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