Final Score: Darlington Mowden Park 38 Stourbridge 8
WHAT might just have been the best performance ever by a Darlington Mowden Park side left them counting the cost of leapfrogging their visitors into second place in National Two North.
The three casualties included the division’s leading try scorer, Henry Robinson, and goal-kicking fly half Grant Connon, although both injuries looked a little less serious than the ankle damage suffered by flanker Liam Riley.
That they were able to make light of these blows underlines the depth of a squad already lacking regular forwards Josh Bayford and Jack Allcock.
Bayford’s deputy, newcomer Henry Sandys, is a Hartpury College product who proved very influential in helping Mowden to shock Stourbridge by destroying their scrum.
The visitors are also known as a strong mauling side but when they kicked two penalties to the corner early in the second half their catch-anddrive attempts were ferociously repelled.
Those efforts typified Mowden’s aggressive defence, while their attacking prowess brought six sparkling tries.
Only one was converted, but the second of Connon’s two penalties, from 40metres, was important as it stretched the lead to 11-5 and got Mowden back on the front foot.
In fact, it sparked a 15- minute purple patch in which they threatened to blow Stourbridge away, despite the lengthy interruption caused by Riley’s 26th-minute injury.
The next score was the try of the season. Mowden ran back a 22-metre drop out and Connon’s precise chip was caught at full tilt by Robinson, who stepped inside two tackles and off-loaded in the next one for supporting hooker Ross Doneghan to score.
It brought the crowd to their feet and the fact that 1,005 turned up showed the significance of the match was not lost on the local rugby fraternity, who managed to bring some atmosphere to The Northern Echo Arena.
Along with the benefit brought by Sandys, the return of Tongan Talite Vaioleti in the second row injected the necessary experience to the Mowden pack.
Vaioleti replaced Chris Campbell, but he went on from the bench when Riley departed, while the loss of Robinson after 39 minutes was also seamlessly overcome through the arrival of Gavin Painter.
When Connon was injured his brother Max went on at full back, with Painter switching to fly half and there was no loss of impetus.
The first try came after four minutes when the ball was moved right then left for Riley to scamper over.
Connon’s first penalty made it 8-0, but Stourbridge hit straight back when the fly half broke from halfway and they scored in the left corner.
If the visitors hoped that would spark them into life they were quickly disillusioned as they were driven off their own scrum ball, leading to Connon’s sweetly-struck second penalty.
He also converted Doneghan’s try and Mowden were in command. They again attacked right then left and scrum half A J Smith nipped over from a ruck - a deserved reward for his excellent display.
In the ten minutes of added time Stourbridge threatened to get back into it, but terrific defence knocked them back until they landed a penalty just before the break.
They again took the game to Mowden on the resumption, but once the catch-anddrives had been repelled they must have known they were beaten.
Midway through the half quick recycling took Mowden into the right corner and Smith threw out a huge pass to skipper Cameron Mitchell, who glided outside his marker to score.
As if to prove it’s not just the backs who have pace in this team, prop Ralph Appleby broke from halfway to set up the next try. He found Campbell outside him and he passed inside for Max Connon to finish.
Finally, slick handling ended with Vaioleti sending Appleby over in the right corner.
Stourbridge had been blown away, after all.