BLAYDON and Darlington Mowden Park both stretched their unbeaten runs with significant away wins on Saturday.
After losing their first four games in National One, Blaydon have won four on the trot after beating Richmond 24-5, while Mowden won 34-10 against Preston Grasshoppers and are only two points behind second-placed Stourbridge in National Two North.
Both the North-East clubs made good use of the catchand- drive to help them pick up the four-try bonus point, while also demonstrating the value of solid defence.
Mowden’s growing forward strength was again evident as they dominated in the tight and earned two penalty tries.
They were also sharper and more aggressive at the breakdown, although neither side could gain much momentum in a penalty-strewn game.
After falling behind to a penalty, Grant Connon equalised, then Mowden forged into a 27-3 lead at the break. The first penalty try was followed by flanker Jack Allcock touching down a catch-and-drive, then skipper Cameron Mitchell finished off a swift counter-attack.
Hoppers scored after 53 minutes but couldn’t break down the Mowden defence again and the visitors’ powerful line-out driving produced the second penalty try with five minutes left.
Blaydon had cause for concern when centre Tom Bramwell pulled a hamstring after 13 minutes and two minutes later his replacement, Simon Barber, pulled a calf.
The three left on the bench were all front row men and coach Micky Ward made way for Robbie Kalbraier, returning after injury, just before half-time.
Lock Chris Wearmouth and flanker Gavin Jones shone in Blaydon’s best performance of the season and Andrew Archibald proved a capable deputy for skipper Keith Laughlin, scoring the opening try.
Richmond cancelled that out before Blaydon took control in the last ten minutes of the first half, Jones evading two tackles to score near the posts for a 12-5 lead.
The forwards often drove their hosts 30 metres and Kalbraier and flanker Harry Bate finished off catch-anddrive tries in the second half.
Andrew Baggett kicked two conversions.
Tynedale slipped to next to the bottom when a try two minutes from time consigned them to a 24-21 home defeat by Loughborough Students.
Losing burly prop Mark Irving with a knee injury after 23 minutes was a blow for Tynedale as their scrum dominance disappeared. They fell behind three times but fly half Gavin Beasley, back after injury, kept edging them in front by converting their three tries.
Centre Ben Frankland and outstanding lock Any Buist scored the first two and Beasley jinked over for the third with nine minutes left.
But he was then sin-binned and was absent when the students scored the winner.
Westoe are only a point off the bottom in National Three North after losing 42-21 at Beverley, despite leading when centre Mark Wilson scored their second try in the first half. They were well adrift by the time skipper John Younghusband grabbed their third late in the game.
Billingham halted their slide with a 34-8 home win against Waterloo, scoring tries through Matt Kirby, Will Turnbull, Craig Tennant, Andy Evans and Peter Evans, who added three conversions and a penalty.
West Hartlepool scored seven tries before conceding two late ones in a 37-20 home win against Alnwick in North One East.
The visitors looked useful in attack but their defence was often breached, starting when Ian Pinchen broke away to score after 15 minutes.
Ryan Painter brushed off a tackle to race in from 25 metres then Scott Butcher galloped up the right wing to score.
Luke Mallinson slipped through a gap on halfway and raced clear for a try under the posts and three minutes before half-time he ran back a kick to start and finish the best try of the game with help from Liam Bailey.
Five minutes into the second half West pressure created an overlap on the left for Bailey to score, but play was then more even until Adam Coates finished off a rolling maul with ten minutes left.
Middlesbrough lost 30-12 at Morpeth, where they trailed only 8-0 until they lost both half-backs around half-time.
Connor Foley picked up a leg injury and Peter Wright a badly-swollen foot.
The injuries, followed by Morpeth scoring again shortly after half-time, put paid to Boro’s hopes of a fightback.
Matthew Todd, who had switched from full back to scrum half, darted over from a scrum after 61 minutes, but Morpeth stretched their lead to 30-5 before No 8 Iain Bradford drove over from a scrum.
Replacement fly half Simon Moore converted.
On a bad day for Stockton, coach Paul Lee must finally be tempted to hang up his playing boots after lasting less than five minutes on his comeback from a hamstring injury.
He had to go to hospital and missed seeing his team slide to a 49-6 home defeat by Horden.
Playing at fly half in the absence of Jeremy Good, Lee’s calf was trodden on, resulting in a hole which required internal and external stitches.
Another veteran, winger Simon Crozier, also retired with a back problem and Stockton ended up with a front-row replacement playing at full back.
Horden forged ahead and despite plenty of effort, Stockton’s only points came from two penalties by Dan Phinn, who had switched to fly half.