North One East
Percy Park RFC 21 v Durham City RFC 16
Percy Parks resolute spirit wins the day
Percy Park and Durham City have always enjoyed a healthy rivalry. A rivalry that goes back to those heady days of 1872; the year both clubs were formed. For the historian you could argue that we have been in dispute with our Durham rivals since 1066. That fated year was the beginning of a period, when we lost our beloved ‘Dun Holm’, to some Frenchmen on horses adorned with odd haircuts. Whichever way you might like to put it, there is and always will be, a real anticipation of ‘a contest’ when Durham City visit. And they did not disappoint. From a Park perspective the game was a slow burner. The first half was all about Durham as Percy Park hung on to the score line with a late try by Leo Caulfield. The second half was a ‘cracker’ with player, supporter and referee leaving the field of play having enjoyed a tense, physical game that had the neutral on the edge of the seat and the partisan supporter chewing their nails. So how did this slow burner ignite and how did Percy Park gain that that victory?
Percy Park kicked off playing ‘uphill’, giving the slight advantage of the slope to Durham City. Park had the edge in the set piece and looked to be playing with structure and a determination to out muscle their opponent. Durham had to defend. A stranglehold that the away side managed to break with some aplomb as they spun the ball with meaningful result.
Park wasted a glorious chance to open the scoring when an Ash Smith lofted pass cleared several defenders leaving prop Andrew Steinburg with ‘a gather’ to cross the line. Failing to keep hold of the ball the opportunity went begging and from the resulting knock on Durham cleared and came to the line out. A nice ‘one handed tap back’ had the ball in the Durham scrum half hands and he spun wide to an onrushing City midfield that Leo Caulfield attempted to stem, before being barrelled over in to next week. The ball went to the left. Park came out the line and only a fingertip prevented Seb Reece from making an intercept, yet the miss had allowed Durham to get behind the line and they were off. Great hands almost put centre Brad Pears in at the corner. Pears was denied his score by a superb Jack Peter tackle. Yet Durham weren’t finished and they battered the line before Park were adjudged to be offside. Penalty taken and the visiting team were ahead by 3 and more importantly the warning signs were there. Although we were dominating Durham were dangerous on the break and Park had to be careful.
Stung into action Park moved the ball only to give it away cheaply. Forward passes, dropped balls and a tendency to drift offside broke Parks ability to create anything of substance and as a consequence were punished on the 20 minute mark. Durham possession came from the line out. Another fine leap from Durham ‘8’ Peter Dent gave quick ball off the top. Durham picked and went, came around the corner and stretched the play. Park’s defence was good, yet Dent was allowed the space to ghost between two defenders and carry the ball onto Park’s 10 metre line. Scrum Half Ruairi Meharg made a great covering tackle but the offload from the floor to the fast moving Brad Pears was too good, leaving Jack Peter’s flat footed and unable to make the tackle. Conversion taken. Percy Park behind by 10.
If a statistician had been around they would have shown that Park had the greater share of possession and territory. We just could not execute and when Durham did gain possession they hurt the home team. A strong breakout by Durham wing Elliot Thomas had Park dropping off the tackle. When he was eventually stopped, just east of the halfway line, Durham were motoring on the front foot and Percy Park were scrambling back. Solid defence from Austin Philips and Andrew Dunn kept Durham at bay and earned Park a ‘put in’ at the scrum. Despite several attempts to clear their lines a knock on gave possession back to Durham. Fluid movement and good hands kept Park guessing and as we infringed, Durham punished the home side with a well taken penalty. 13 nil
As the half loomed Park managed a response. Ash Smith and Ruairi Meharg began to orchestrate the Park back line and some ‘in the face’ passes, followed by a crash and off the floor pass had Durham on the back foot creeping back to their 22. An overzealous Durham forward went into the ruck from the side, giving Park the free ball. Although the advantage came to nothing the Penalty was an easy take for Ash Smith. To the surprise of some Smith went to the line and it was from ‘the five’ that Percy Park made the first score of the day. And it was a really well executed move. A long Adam Hay throw to the rear was gathered by Josh Hedley. Remaining upright, Park wheeled and with numbers drove to the line allowing Leo Caulfield to score. A difficult conversion was made by Smith and we rolled into the half with a score line of 13 points to Percy Park’s 7.
The talk ‘on the terraces’ was Percy Park’s failure to execute and allowing themselves to be caught with the sucker punch. One wag at the game believed we had butchered so many chances that the game had to be sponsored by our local butcher Dougie Nicholson. As Doug would never sponsor anything Kenmor Ceilings held that accolade for the day and as always the faithful did not believe that the ceiling was quite ready to cave in on Percy parks performance.
Despite the hope, the first score of the second half went to Durham, as Park were caught flat footed in the midfield. A miss pass put a galloping second row behind park’s defensive line. The tackles went flying in, but we could not prevent Durham making ground. In front of our posts, Michael Langlands was adjudged not to have rolled away. Durham took the points and were ahead by 9.
Encouraged by the home crowd, Park seemed to come awake and we started to play. Leading from the front a ‘bollocking’ run from Ash Smith followed by a similar effort from Ollie Stephenson set the tempo. The Durham midfield was broken and Meharg seized the moment by putting in a fast pass to Captain Seb Reece. Quick feet gave him the gap and he was into that chasm as quick as a Tyneside whippet. Try scored in the corner. Ash Smith took the difficult conversion with a very good kick. We were back in the game at 14 to 16
Andrew Dunn was rallying the pack to greater effort and scrum half Ruairi Meharg was having a stormer, moving the Park team forward. That did not mean that Durham had rolled over, far from it. They battled and fought and once past the first tackle, their movement was good. Park often dived out the defensive line. Covering tackles had to be made and they were. Jonny Dubois was on for the injured Andrew Steinburg and he was quickly into the contest. And he had to be. Durham were held up as they went for the line. Gripping stuff. As bodies continued to fly in the referee saw fit to yellow card Jake Smith. Down to 14. Durham went to the set moves but they could not get over the whitewash.
Park were under pressure and some of that was due their own mistakes. Poor kicking from hand and isolating players in possession kept Park in their 22. Yet Durham could not score. From a scrum Andy Dunn picked up and released scrumhalf Meharg to ‘the blind side’. A great hand off put Meharg behind the Durham line. Quick of foot, Meharg was away to the half way. As the tackler came across Meharg had Ali Blair on his right shoulder. Committing the tackler, Meharg got the ball away to Blair. Blair was in space and in those situations he is lethal. Score made. Conversion taken. 21 to 16. Park were ahead for the first time.
As Durham chased the game, Park found space and hit up time and time again before releasing ball and player. Durham were hanging on. Park were restored to 15 and for the first time looked as if we would see the game out. Meharg took a knock and went to the knee. Durham took to the huddle and came back strongly, dragging backs into the collision area before targeting the forwards left in the defensive line. One ‘miss match’ had Josh Hedley looking at air before an Ali Blair hand prevented the Durham side coming anywhere near scoring points. Percy Park were back to 14 players with 12 to go including the injury time if my old ‘tick tock’ was in agreement with the referee.
Percy Park held out. It was dogged often brutal stuff. A high tackle in ‘stoppage time’ gave Durham a chance at the posts. Looking for the win they went to the try line. Ali Blair was restored. The line out went to the 5 metre line. Durham gathered and came to the ground. They went to their right and left without making any yards. Park infringed. With the free ball to the back they decided to throw wide with some effect, as Park just held on to a Durham centres shirt as attacker and defenders crashed to the floor. Back to the penalty. Back to a line out. Langlands was up at the front and interfered tapping the ball back into Park territory. With ball seized on Percy Park made their way out of danger and the chance for Durham to win the game at the death slipped away.
The game was a great contest and ‘at the whistle’ both sides congratulated each other. Plenty of tired bodies left the field as both sides had given their all. For the supporter it was a really good game to watch and a gritty performance with some sparkle from the home side promises more.
Final score Percy Park 21 Durham City 16. Next week Percy Park are away to Driffield. Three on the bounce can we make it four?