Saturday 16 September 2023
Percy Park 31 Keswick 12
Regional Two North
On Saturday, Percy Park hosted Keswick RUFC in game three of the new season with the club sitting proudly on top of Regional 2 North following wins over Northern and newly promoted Cockermouth. Keswick, in contrast, have not had the best of starts, suffering defeats at West Hartlepool and, last weekend, at home to Durham City. However, despite differing starts to the season, Park were still expecting a tough game and so it proved. Although not being quite at their fluent best, a bonus point win over our Cumbrian visitors meant mission accomplished in what was an entertaining encounter.
Park were disrupted by late withdrawals, with Andy Dunn coming into the back row, Aaron Smith moving to hooker and Adam Hay back in the first team squad on the replacements bench. The backline showed one change, Jamie Wrigley returning at full back after missing the trip to Cockermouth last week. The only other change was in the weather; a scorching 26 degrees last weekend, a chilly, damp 13 degrees here on Saturday.
Keswick kicked off playing with the slight breeze to their backs. In the opening exchanges, it was Keswick who started the stronger, their pack showing aggression and when the opportunity arose, putting the ball through the hands into the wide open spaces but without offering any points scoring threat. When Park did secure ball in those opening 10 minutes, they showed their attacking intent, particularly through Wrigley, captain Howard Stock and wing Ross Young but both sides gave up possession all too easily, stalling momentum. An enforced injury break then seemed to galvanise the home side and on 14 minutes they made the breakthrough. A scrum, after a Keswick knock on just outside of the visitors 22, offered the platform with Stock coming in off of his wing to carve open the Keswick defence. When he was tackled, the Park forwards carried the ball almost to the try line but it was moved quickly left for Young to score in the left hand corner. The conversion was missed (5-0)
Keswick responded almost immediately. From the restart, the Keswick eight kept possession with both second row Mark Trow and flanker Karl Smyth carrying well and wing Ryan Weir probing the Park defence. Keswick gained a penalty in the Park 22 after a Park high tackle and with advantage being played by referee Ben Glover, Weir with a jinking run breached the Park defence and from the ensuing ruck, Smyth was on hand to scamper over wide on the right on 19 minutes (5-5). The try was converted by outside half Stephen Holloway (5-7).
After the restart, the home side began to dominate possession but they lacked accuracy with the ball being knocked on, passes going astray and players being penalised. Second row Chris Reekie and prop Tristan Grant were carrying strongly and centre Ash Smith had one barnstorming run but every Park endeavour seemed to break down and it was Keswick who scored next with a blistering try from deep on 27 minutes. From a scrum just outside the Keswick 22, the ball was fed to centre George Holme who crashed through several attempted tackles to power through the Park defence and a slick pass to wing Danny Price outside him saw Price accelerate to the line to score an excellent try wide out on the right. The try was unconverted (5-12).
Park needed to eliminate the mistakes which had hampered their efforts thus far and this they managed to do in the remaining 13 minutes of the half with two tries before the break to turn the game on its head. From the restart, Park secured possession and from a Keswick high tackle in midfied Park were able to kick to the right hand corner. From the 5 metre line out, the ball was moved quickly left but as the move broke down on the left wing the ball came out to the very alert Ash Smith whose accurate cross kick was expertly gathered by back row Leo Caulfied, contesting the catch with Keswick wing Weir, who scored the try which was converted by Smith on 31 minutes (12-12).
Percy Park were attempting to play an expansive game but it was the forwards who struck the final blow of the first half. Another Keswick infringement in midfield (high tackle) resulted in an identical kick to the right hand corner but on this occasion a textbook catch and drive from the Park eight had Keswick in trouble and Andy Dunn was able to touch down on 39 minutes. The try was unconverted by Ash Smith (17-12).
HT: Percy Park 17 Keswick 12
Park kicked off the second half and for the opening 10 minutes, the Keswick pack applied pressure with (before injury) second row Trow, No 8 Stephen Moss and scrum half Jack Thompson working hard. What possession Park gained came to nothing with infringements hampering momentum. However, defensively Park were equal to it and for all their early possession, Keswick did not create any scoring opportunities. After 50 minutes Park gained the put-in at a scrum on halfway after an accidental offside offence. The ball was quickly shifted right with Ross Young and Jamie Wrigley making ground. As the ball came infield, Andy Dunn and Chris Reekie made ground before outside half Fergus Simpson swerved around his opposite number to give the scoring pass to Ash Smith. The centre accelerated between two defenders before diving over for the try to the left of the posts which he converted on 50 minutes (24-12). The try bonus point secured.
As the game entered the final quarter, Park were finding it difficult to put meaningful phases together. Uncharacteristic errors and penalties awarded against them in promising positions (hands in the ruck, knocking the ball forward) gifted Keswick possession but they were not able to ever really threaten the Park try line, eventually conceding possession after being penalised at a ruck. From the resultant kick to touch, Park struck with what for me was the try of the match to put the game beyond the reach of our opponents on 73 minutes. The ball was passed in field from the lineout with Simpson eventually putting full back Wrigley into space. He powered over half way before an outside pass put wing Ross Young away along the left touchline. As Young moved in field, his inside pass to replacement centre Oli Bartles-Smith took out his opposite number, the last line of defence, for a stunning try scored under the posts. This was converted by Simpson (31-12).
As the clock ticked down, both sides could not retain possession for a sufficient amount of time to threaten the scoreboard.
FT: Percy Park 31 Keswick 12
Player/Coach Ash Smith was pleased with the bonus point win but a little disappointed with the performance, particularly the error count. However, in mitigation, he said the late changes did not help preparation and he pointed to the positives; an excellent defensive display, particularly in the second half, and the way the team came back to lead the game late in the first half after finding themselves 5-12 down on the half hour.
Tristan Grant and Chris Reekie excelled in the forwards, Simpson and Smith look an excellent 10/12 partnership and our new players again all played well and some of the tries were straight out of the top drawer. Seventeen tries in just three games demonstrates our attacking intent and how we want to play the game. Perhaps Messers Borthwick, Sinfield et al should come up to Preston Avenue for a visit…. The bonus point win has Park with a 100% record after three games and top of Regional 2 North. Our opponents also played very well and scored two good tries and although they have yet to win a game this season, it is early days, and they will surely pick up results in the not too distant future. We wish them well and look forward to the return fixture in Cumbria. Our thanks also go to referee Ben Glover.
Next Saturday, 23 September, both the first team and (hopefully) the Lions travel to Upper Eden. The newly promoted Cumbrian side have had an excellent start to life in Regional 2 North and only lost their unbeaten start to the season by the narrowest of margins, losing 15-14 at Durham City on Saturday. A tough challenge awaits.
Percy Park: 15 Jamie Wrigley; 14 Howard Stock ©; 13 Paul Spowart; 12 Ash Smith; 11 Ross Young; 10 Fergus Simpson; 9 Andrew Walker; 8 Leo Caulfield; 7 Joe Thompson; 6 Andy Dunn; 5 Chris Reekie; 4 Josh Hedley; 3 Matt Atkinson; 2 Aaron Smith; 1 Tristan Grant
Replacements: Adam Hay; Oli Bartles-Smith; Paddy Hargreaves