12:00am Monday 23rd September 2013
By Tim Wellock
Final Score: Darlington Mowden Park 48, Bromsgrove 21
MUCH has changed since Bromsgrove were the first rugby club to visit The Northern Echo Arena in freezing February.
The large lettering on the seating makes it clear this is the home of Mowden, not the Quakers, the pitch is verdant and the stadium vibrant after its lengthy hibernation.
The only slight disappointment was that the match lacked the intensity which might help to swell crowds beyond the 700 who turned up.
There will be a few more like it because Mowden will be too good for a lot of teams in National Two North, but while they can again expect to be in the top four they will do well to gain promotion with such a young team.
The oldest in the starting line-up was 24, but while a couple of old heads up front might have given them more control talented youngsters have to be given opportunities. And there are a lot of them.
On the wings, for example - even though last season's leading try scorer Chris McTurk is injured there was no starting place for Shaun McCartney, although he made an impact when he went on.
New winger Tom Kill obviously knows the way to the line, adding another well-taken try to the brace he scored in the opening defeat at Macclesfield. But the previous week's hat-trick hero, full back Henry Robinson, was again man of the match.
As well as making some exciting incursions from long distance, his speed took him into good supporting positions and inside passes provided him with two more tries.
Up front Mowden had enough power to drive a couple of mauls 15 metres and they were awarded a penalty try when going for a pushover.
Lock Pierce Phillips, who romped through from 25 metres for a try, has obviously developed well during his year with Leeds Carnegie, while local lad Liam Riley staked a strong claim for a regular start at open side.
Mowden scored three tries in the first half and four between the 59th and 69th minutes, although the penultimate one was dubious. Referee Wayne Falla, a former Northumberland cricketer, awarded it after asking a touch judge whether replacement prop Ben Simpson had grounded the ball properly.
Not that it mattered as Bromsgrove were well beaten by then, just as they always looked likely to be, although they fought back gamely to trail only 15-14 after 30 minutes.
Robinson finished off Mowden's best two tries, the first owing much to some sleight of hand by centre Chris Peace and the second resulting from a 60-metre charge by McCartney after a Bromsgrove attack broke down. There was also a try for the other winger, Callum McKenzie.
Gavin Painter, filling in at fly half until Grant Connon is fit, kicked three easy penalties and a conversion before making way for Sam Errington, who added one conversion.
It was a comfortable win but there was room for improvement, which will surely come from such a young side. They will score a lot of tries, but they might need a couple of old stagers to help them in the sterner battles.
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