Final Score: Darlington Mowden Park 20 Chester 13
THE first competitive game of the season at The Northern Echo Arena left Mowden Park in little doubt that they will need to improve ahead of their next home game against Stourbridge in two weeks.
After trouncing all previous visitors, Mowden had to work hard to overcome both a combative Chester side and their own carelessness.
They also had to contend with a referee who awarded 27 penalties, but any frustration was eased by news of leaders Macclesfield suffering a shock defeat at home to Birmingham and Solihull.
Mowden are now only three points behind, but for all their talent, they were reminded of the dangers of fielding a pack with an average age of 21 and will need a little more steel for the crucial game against second- placed Stourbridge.
Tongan international Talite Vaioleti, injured in the first game, could be pressed back into service, while last year’s captain Junior Fagalilo is still available.
An old head to lead the pack is required against the better sides in National Two North, in which there is a big gulf between top and bottom.
When they were shoving Caldy around a month ago it seemed there had been a big improvement in Mowden’s forward strength. But on Saturday they struggled in the tight after the ninth-minute loss of prop Josh Bayford, who suffered a stinger in a shoulder.
The line-out malfunctioned as dual-registered Newcastle Falcons lock Glen Young found his feet. He won some ball but failed to collect one he should have gathered as three penalties kicked to touch in the first half resulted in the ball being lost.
Both sides defended well and it was fitting that the one try which resulted from creative play – and a superb try it was – made the difference.
It was finished by winger Chris McTurk, who was hungry for work in his second game back after injury, often appearing on his opposite wing, as he did for the try, and chasing kick-offs to tackle the receiver.
It was also just as well that Grant Connon was back to his best kicking form, with his four successes including the conversion of McTurk’s try from the left touchline and a 40-metre penalty.
Chester led through a fifthminute penalty until the 30th minute, when McTurk’s try stemmed from a counterattack launched from well inside Mowden’s own 22.
They got to halfway, where No 8 Guy Van Den Dries broke on the blind side of a maul and skilfully flicked a backhanded pass to full back Henry Robinson, who drew the last defender before providing the scoring pass.
Chester hit back with a good attack up the left and when they were awarded a penalty they opted for a scrum, which had been driven almost to the line when it went down, resulting in a penalty try.
On the intervention of a touch judge Mowden were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time and Connon made it 10-10.
McTurk was sin-binned for not releasing shortly after the break and Chester kicked the penalty to the corner and launched a sustained assault on the line. Crucially, Mowden kept them out and just as McTurk returned Connon landed his 40-metre penalty.
Gavin Painter replaced Tom Hodgson at centre and made two telling breaks before he was harshly sin-binned. His second break had sparked an attack which took Mowden almost to the line and when the forwards drove over, Ralph Appleby getting the touchdown, Connon converted for a 20-10 lead.
With five minutes left Chester kicked the penalty which earned them a bonus point, but Mowden held out comfortably.