10:10am Monday 25th November 2013
WHAT was expected to be a tight match was shaping up into a thrilling battle until Zach Kibirige took a hand.
Newcastle Falcons cannot possibly have two better wingers than him.
They are allowing the England Under 20 squad member to gain match fitness with Blaydon after missing the first ten weeks of the season with a hamstring injury, but he looks ready to test Premiership defences.
Selected at full back, he showed he can also catch high balls, kick and pass. Only his tackling wasn’t seriously tested and, assuming he can do that, he looks the complete package.
Blaydon really turned it onafter leading only 10-7 until Kibirige scored twice in the last five minutes of the first half, his second being a spectacular length-of-the-field effort.
Andrew Baggett released him and after his pace took him past the first tackle he had the strength to wriggle out of the second. He was shepherded to the left and seemed certain to be bundled into touch, but despite being almost halted he stayed on his feet and escaped to romp under the posts.
He had a relatively quiet second half, twice putting in big clearance kicks with the fans bellowing for him to run.
Blaydon couldn’t get their hands on the ball for the first ten minutes and Wharfedale looked a lively all-round unit, taking a 7-0 lead when diminutive scrum half Philip Woodhead rewarded their pressure.
They had won six of their previous seven games to move up to fifth in National One, but once Kibirige had changed the game they were overpowered by a team who would be challenging for the title had they not started the season with four defeats.
There’s a lot of versatility in the Blaydon pack, with Gavin Jones equally effective in second or back row, while prop James Hallam ended up at blind side when Andrew Foster went on for his first appearance since being injured early last season.
Skipper Keith Laughlin went on from the bench for the second half and shored up the only obvious weakness in Blaydon’s game, their lineout.
Several penalties to touch produced nothing in the first half, but Jones did secure one ball and when the driving maul went down a penalty try was awarded.
Baggett converted and added an easy penalty for the 10-7 lead after 20 minutes then his opposite number, Tom Barrett, missed one he would normally land.
The cut and thrust continued until Kibirige twice appeared in the centre. Going left, he threw a lovely pass, then when the ball came back right he simply glided through a barely existent gap to score.
Wharfedale hit straight back, only to be cruelly punished by Kibirige’s sensational second.
Given the strength of Blaydon’s defence, the visitors were never going to come back from 22-7 down, although they again applied pressure at the start of the second half.
A Barrett penalty hit a post but as Blaydon got back on top Baggett made no mistake from a similar distance.
Helped by the arrival of Laughlin and hooker Matt Hall, the home forwards were now in control and lock Chris Wearmouth burrowed over before impressive flanker Harry Bate finished a catchand- drive.
Wharfedale never gave up and a slick attack up the right produced a try for full back Christian Georgiou.
Blaydon took their try tally to seven with two in the last five minutes, Kibirige supplying a well-timed pass on halfway for winger Tom Jeffrey to hold off a tackle in reaching the line.
Laughlin caught the restart and made ground before Baggett broke and fed back row man Ben Morris, who capped his outstanding second half by showing a fine turn of pace to race over.
Baggett added his fifth conversion.
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