DARLINGTON Mowden Park’s efforts to have The Northern Echo Arena recognised at international level have earned their first reward and they are hopeful that a second will swiftly follow.

The Arena is to stage the England Counties XV’s match against an Ireland Clubs XV on Friday, February 21 (7.30pm). And Mowden also expect to hear soon that the stadium will be used as a training base by an international side ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

The 25,000-seat former home of Darlington Football Club is the largest rugby arena in England outside Twickenham, and Mowden recently attracted a crowd of more than 1,000 for the visit of Stourbridge.

The England Counties XV consists largely of players who appear in National One and support county rugby. In recent years it has featured Darlington lock Richard Snowball plus several Blaydon and Tynedale players.

Blaydon lock Chris Wearmouth, who comes from Eastgate, in Weardale, and prop Robbie Kalbraier can expect to be in contention to face Ireland Clubs. Both are former Mowden players and some of the current squad could also be in the frame.

“We are delighted to welcome both teams to our new home, said Mowden chairman Mike Keeligan. “A growing number of people are following the England Counties fixtures and it’s fantastic that the North-East will get to host these international sides on the eve of an RBS Six Nations match at Twickenham.

“We’re very much trying to open up the Arena to wider rugby circles and the sporting community in general and I hope that people enjoy the opportunity to see this level of sport and the occasion.”

Ticket prices £5 for adults if prebooked or £7 on the day. Under 16s go free. Tickets can be booked through the Arena main reception on 01325-350267.

Mowden are also offering a prematch curry with a ground admission ticket for £10, which must be booked in advance. Corporate hospitality packages of £200 for ten, which includes a buffet, waitress service and match programme can also be booked.

Mowden won 54-0 at home to Luctonians last Saturday and can be confident of a similar romp when they are again at home tomorrow, against the fourth bottom side in National One, Hull.

After the trek from Herefordshire, Luctonians defended well in the first half but folded when Mowden stepped it up after the interval to score 40 points.

Shaun McCartney, restored to the wing in the absence of Tom Kill, scored a try in each half and there was also a brace for skipper Cameron Mitchell, taking his season’s tally to ten.

His fellow centre Chris Peace continued his return from injury by going on from the bench to set up Mitchellâ ™s first and add one of his own.

Mitchell’s second was a length-ofthe- field effort, as was Callum McKenzie’s, and there were also tries for hooker Ross White and winger Chris McTurk. Gavin Painter kicked four conversions and replacement Tom Hodgson three.

A last-minute converted try gave Darlington a 36-34 home win against Durham City in a game in which the lead changed hands seven times.

Although the try was scored by winger Tony Taylor, he had joined the back of a driving maul, which proved very effective for the stronger home forwards, while young Sam Hardy had a good game at fly half. Darlington returned to second place in Durham and Northumberland One, leapfrogging City and Guisborough, who lost 21-15 at Hartlepool Rovers.

There are no league games at this level on the next two Saturdays, but Darlington are to stage their annual match against Yarm School Old Boys tomorrow, kicking off at 4.30pm.

City played most of the second half with 14 men because of injuries, which began as early as the fifth minute when their No 8 dislocated a shoulder.

But they came back from 12-5 down to lead 20-12 at half-time.

Having scored close range tries through back row men Kevin Gilroy and Colin Rogers, Darlington added two more through Rogers and Joe Oselton to regain the lead at 22-20 and the game continued to see-saw.

Winger Rob Smith scored a hat-trick for City, while replacement centre Henry Carver scored Darlington’s penultimate try and after Taylor levelled the scores Mark Baldwin settled it with his third conversion.

Middlesbrough are only one point above the relegation places in North One East after losing 15-12 at home to Doncaster- based Wheatley Hills.

They showed plenty of spirit and defended well to stay in a game in which they were on the back foot almost throughout.

After playing downwind the visitors led only 10-5 and with the wind getting stronger Boro looked likely winners when they went 12-10 ahead seven minutes after the break.

Lock Phil Harland crashed over to reward forward pressure, but the Wheatley Hills pack got straight back on top and it was no surprised when they scored a pushover try in the 70th minute.

Boro’s first half try stemmed from No 8 Iain Bradford picking up from a scrum in his own half. He fed Peter Wright, whose chip ahead was hacked on by Jack Bircham and when the forwards won quick ruck ball it was moved left for Connor Foley to score.

Stockton, without four of the previous week’s backs, slipped to fourth from the bottom in D and N One when they lost 48-15 at Gateshead. There were tries for stand-in full back Steve Bartliff and fly half Jeremy Good, who added a penalty and conversion.

Northallerton produced a much-improved performance to win 20-15 at home to Old Modernians, who are second in Yorkshire Three.

The visitors started the brighter, retaining possession and putting North under pressure, but in a blustery cross wind any long passing was proving difficult.

North went ahead when, after clearing the ball, Lee Peake stole the line-out ball to send skipper Dougie Mulholland away. He threw an outrageous dummy before off-loading to Joe Terry, who crashed over from ten yards out.

Old Modernians responded swiftly with a try out wide when North were caught napping at a quick tap penalty.

Soon afterwards North’s flying winger, Greg Aspin, continued his good form by evading two covering tacklers as he raced over in the corner.

Just before half-time, a wayward 22-metre drop-out by Mulholland was gathered by the visitors, who quickly worked their way over for a converted try to lead 12-10.

In the second half, with the wind getting stronger, North kept the ball tight with the constant recycling requiring the back row of Marc Waldon, Tom Young and Martin Dennison to be on top of their game.

The tactics paid dividends with another fine try for Aspin and a one for Patrick Hebblethwaite.

Old Mods were rarely in North’s half in the second period, but did manage to convert a longrange penalty with the last kick of the game for a bonus point.

The next first team fixture is on January 4, at home to Castleford, but the seconds are at home to Richmond tomorrow after travelling to Harrogate expecting to play their fourths last week. They ended up playing a side consisting mostly of second team players and lost 55-5, the only try coming from Andrew Alan Fishburn, created by a 50- metre run from captain Paul Dennison.

There were good performances by Giles Drew, James Duggleby and the club’s vicechairman Rob Close, who despite being just short of his 50th birthday managed a full 80 minutes.

The third team game was called off due to Hartlepool being unable to raise a team.