Darlington 21 Gateshead 3
THE opening skirmish of Darlington’s 150th season proved fairly tame compared with the battles they have had to fight off the pitch.
They were in grave danger of having to spend their celebratory year playing in unfamiliar territory in Yorkshire One, a fate which befell Acklam instead once Darlington’s vigorous appeal succeeded.
Also, their attempts to build a wide-ranging community sports club might have been threatened by Mowden Park doing the same following their move to The Northern Echo Arena.
But the Blackwell Meadows developments were already well under way, with two football pitches now in use on adjoining land and Rugby League and archery also established.
And the possibility remains that Darlington FC will move in there.
For most of the club’s life the idea of co-existing with Rugby League would have had committee men spluttering in their beer. And there might still be some who feel that the 13-a-side upstarts will have a detrimental effect.
But the fact that they play in the summer helps to keep the clubhouse ticking over throughout the year and has brought in a couple of new forwards in Jamie Chalmers and Dom McAlorum, who both impressed on Saturday.
So did the centre pairing of Adam Gardner, newly-arrived from Mowden, and Dr Andy Pugh, whose studies obliged him to play for Medicals last season.
They are too good for Durham and Northumberland One and Darlington will want to bounce back from last season’s relegation because Gateshead’s lack of fitness suggested the art of coarse rugby is alive and well at this level. Unless they simply enjoy the attentions of their female physio. There were almost 18 minutes of added time, much of which could have been avoided had the referee played on while those with cramp or minor bumps were attended to.
The frequent stoppages prevented the game from building any momentum after Darlington looked much livelier early on than they did last season.
They will be even stronger if and when players like Richard Snowball, Nick Baldwin, Connor Esler and Tony Taylor become available.
There were yellow cards for flanker Colin Rogers and fullback Mark Baldwin for preventing release when Gateshead were threatening to score.
But Darlington were still mostly on top with 14 men and although there were occasional glimpses of pace from the visiting backs and some strong surges from skipper and flanker John Charlton, they rarely threatened.
With Dan Miller back from Mowden, Darlington dominated the scrums, which went well enough under the new law requiring props to bind before they engage.
A well-struck penalty by Baldwin gave Darlington an early lead but it took until the half hour before he doubled it.
The first try came on the stroke of half-time when Gardner burst on to a pass from fly half Henry Carver and cut through to send Pugh over.
When Baldwin was sinbinned 15 minutes after the break Gateshead scrum-half Steve Waddle kicked the penalty and the visitors briefly threatened to rally.
But Darlington hit back to score two tries while down to 14.
Carver made a half break and off-loaded for Pugh to send right-winger Dan Carter over, then Miller crashed over from close range.
It was a satisfactory start, but they wouldn’t want to peak too early in their celebratory year.