DURHAM’S top two clubs, Blaydon and Darlington Mowden Park, both began the season with unwelcome defeats.
While Mowden faced what will be one of their toughest matches, losing 30-19 at Macclesfield, a 34-9 home defeat for Blaydon by Loughborough Students was a shock.
It will sharpen their preparations for this week’s derby at Tynedale, who lost 51-17 at Henley Hawks after trailing only 20-17 at the interval.
With first-choice scrumhalf Andy Davies injured, Blaydon discovered that his deputy, Jonny Burn, was not registered.
He had been dual registered with Newcastle last season, but when the Falcons de-registered him it applied to both clubs.
Blaydon thought they had realised this in time, but numerous calls to Twickenham went unanswered until after the deadline and assistant coach Hall Charlton was forced to play.
Intending to turn out only in an emergency, he hadn’t trained and lasted only 30 minutes, after which star forward Rob Bell took over at scrum half.
Burn will be available against Tynedale and Andrew Baggett expects to be fit to play at fly-half, but star winger Zach Kibirige is out for six weeks with a hamstring injury.
Baggett’s deputy, Jamie Guy, missed a good chance to add to his three penalties which saw Blaydon lead 9-5 at half-time.
They were still dominant up front afterwards, but couldn’t get over the line and in their anxiety to do so they kept losing the ball, only to see the students score four of their six tries from breakaways.
Blaydon were still in the game and pressing strongly with six minutes left, but they conceded three late tries.
They weren’t helped by unopposed scrums in the last 14 minutes after Loughborough’s replacement prop went off.
A try by former Newcastle Falcons lock Andy Buist helped to keep Tynedale in touch at half-time at Henley but they shipped 30 unanswered points in the second half.
Mowden conceded too many penalties at the breakdown at Macclesfield and the final one halted their fightback after two tries by new winger Tom Kill.
Guy Van Den Dries also touched down and Gavin Painter added two conversions.
A late try consigned Billingham to a 25-21 defeat at Huddersfield in National Three North, while Westoe drew 22-22 at Penrith.
West Hartlepool opened their North One East account with a 24-9 win at Northern, where Sam Miller scored two tries and in the face of stern defence the hosts ran out of steam.
After an early exchange of penalties, West’s Jon Boatman and the home hooker were sin-binned after 18 minutes and with the penalty being reversed in West’s favour they went for the lineout and drove to the line for Miller to score. Stu Waites converted from the touchline.
Northern kicked a second penalty, but with the wind behind them in the second half West dominated. Waites broke through to race over and convert, then Boatman surged away and almost got to the line, with Miller on hand to finish off.
Middlesbrough won 27-12 at home to Alnwick with experienced duo Peter Wright and Simon Moore doing well in midfield.
After poor tackling handed Alnwick the opening try, Moore scored the next 13 points from a converted try and two penalties. Then from broken play scrum-half Conor Foley sprinted 50 metres to touch down by the posts before Alnwick scored from a rare visit to the Boro half.
They were still in the game at 20-12, but in the 89th minute full back Adam Nolson sealed it for Boro and Moore added his third conversion.
After suffering their first home defeat for two years against Seaton Carew in the Durham Intermediate Cup, they played with more purpose and excellent finishing by 18-year-old winger Kieron Canovan produced two tries.
Hooker Lee Cox also scored and fly-half Tim Tombling added three conversions and three penalties.