Saturday 30 September 2023
Percy Park 49 Morpeth 16
Regional 2 North
On Saturday, Percy Park hosted our friends and rivals from Morpeth RFC in an eagerly anticipated top of the table clash between the only two sides with 100% records in Regional 2 North. Park, courtesy of four try bonus points in their opening games, sitting proudly on top of the league with our visitors one place below them. Morpeth had enjoyed home wins over Stockton and Consett before winning a close game at West Hartlepool 23-27 and, last weekend, ending Durham City’s unbeaten start to the new campaign 18-12 at Mitford Road in another close encounter. A hard fought game was expected and that proved to be the case in a tight first half where Park were hampered, at times, by over elaboration and by an unacceptable lack of discipline. However, the second half was a completely different match with Park rampant and at their best to record a comprehensive victory and consolidate their position at the summit of Regional 2 North.
Park kicked off in dry but overcast conditions with a slight breeze. They showed their attacking intent almost immediately, full back Toby Davison hitting the line at pace only for wing Ross Young to unfortunately knock-on. Young made amends soon afterwards when he made ground off of his wing wide on the right and as the ball was moved quickly left, prop Sam Digman made ground before the ball was shifted left again at speed into the hands of second row Josh Hedley who crashed through several attempted tackles to score the opening try to the left of the posts on 6 minutes. Ash Smith converted (7-0).
Morpeth were able to hit back almost immediately when from the kick-off after try scorer Hedley was penalised for a high tackle. Morpeth full back Jake McKay made no mistake with the kick on 8 minutes (7-3). Worse was to come 3 minutes later; Park stole the ball from the malfunctioning Morpeth lineout on the left and the ball came infield. The move collapsed and with Park at sixes and sevens Morpeth were able to rip the ball from Park hands with a two on one advantage. A quick pass and left wing James Turner streaked away from his own 10 metre line to score an excellent opportunist try to the left of the posts which was converted by McKay (7-10). Park were struggling with their discipline, Morpeth able to relieve any pressure from the resultant penalty kicks, and Park scrum half Andrew Walker was being given a torrid time by his opposite number Jack Elliott. However, as the first quarter ended Park were again penalised (not releasing in the tackle) midway in the Morpeth half only for the penalty to be reversed after the referee Mr Morrisson spotted Morpeth foul play. Ash Smith kicked the penalty to tie the score (10-10). Park were looking to play an expansive game but were hampered by a lack of accuracy as demonstrated when a storming Josh Hedley charge and excellent off-load ended almost at the Morpeth try line with a home side knock-on.
As the first half progressed, the Park forwards were gaining ascendancy and a catch and drive from a lineout in the Morpeth 22 almost resulted in a try but Morpeth were able to disrupt and gain a penalty. The struggle with their discipline continued and this allowed Morpeth to gain possession and territory. On the half hour mark, as Morpeth applied pressure in the Park 22 with a series of forward drives, the hosts were penalised several times in quick succession with advantage being played but when Morpeth failed to capitalise, play was stopped. Park skipper Howard Stock was spoken to regarding the penalty count by referee Morrisson and McKay kicked the penalty from wide out on the left (10-13). As the second quarter clock ticked down, Park had the upper hand territorially but could not convert their pressure into further points.
HT: Percy Park 10 Morpeth 13
Morpeth kicked off the second half with a kick which went straight into touch, a sign perhaps of things to come. Park gained an immediate penalty award as the Morpeth eight began to splinter from home pressure at the scrum. Ash Smith kicked the penalty from just inside his own half to again tie the score (13-13). But, as happened in the first half, Park were immediately penalised themselves after scoring when, attempting to play out of their own 22 after the restart, stand-off Fergus Simpson was adjudged not to have released the ball after being held in the tackle and up stepped McKay to kick the penalty, putting Morpeth ahead after just 4 minutes of the half (13-16). The Park eight began to dominate, winning another scrum penalty which was kicked to the right hand corner by Smith. The catch and drive was halted illegally and Morpeth No 8 Josh Williams received an immediate yellow card from the referee. Park elected a scrum and although untidy it resulted in Park second row Chris Reekie eventually being driven over for the try on 49 minutes. The score was not converted (18-16).
From the restart, as Park played out of their 22, hooker Jonny Dubois was the recipient of a high tackle with the penalty kick putting Park on the Morpeth 10 metre line. The ball was moved right infield from the lineout where both Park second rows made ground. The ball was taken on by Smith and left wing Ross Young but when the move broke down the ball was quickly moved right for prop Sam Digman to crash over from 5 metres to the left of the posts. Smith converted (25-16).
Morpeth were becoming ragged, the restart again going straight into touch gifting the home side possession. Park were beginning to eliminate the mistakes, keep their discipline and play expansively. The reverse was true of our visitors who under pressure were losing their own discipline and as the third quarter ended, a sweeping Park move along the right hand touch line involving both forwards and backs was halted after Morpeth scrum half Elliott killed the ball illegally, receiving a yellow card for his trouble, 5 metres from their try line. The resultant penalty kick was put into touch with Park hunting the bonus point try which duly arrived after a catch and drive had Jonny Dubois scoring wide out on the right. Ash Smith was unable to convert (30-16).
Now struggling up front, a Morpeth put in at a scrum midway in the Park half for a knock-on had their forwards splinter under pressure from the home pack and it was now the Morpeth captain who was spoken to by referee Morrisson regarding the penalty count. From the resulting lineout, Park moved quickly up field, forwards to the fore, and as Park moved towards the try line yet another penalty was awarded to the home side for a Morpeth player making no effort to roll away after a tackle, much to their captain's frustration. Smith kicked the penalty to touch in the left hand corner, a catch and drive from the lineout and it was that man Mr Dubois scoring again on 68 minutes. Smith converted (37-16).
On 74 minutes, Park scored again; Ross Young with a jinking run made ground from half way and when tackled the ball was moved quickly right to find captain Howard Stock moving at pace along the right wing and his inside pass, taking out the last defender, found centre Paul Spowart who dived over for an excellent try which was converted by Ash Smith (44-16).
The Morpeth restart again went straight into touch allowing Park possession and an attacking platform. Swift movement almost had the forwards scoring again but they were held up over the line. As the clock ticked down, Park were hunting try number seven and exerting great pressure on their visitors to achieve it with a Morpeth prop receiving a yellow card, their third of the game. The pressure eventually told with the quick thinking Spowart giving the scoring pass from a tap penalty to second row Josh Hedley for his second try of the match to the left of the posts which was unconverted by Ash Smith (49-16).
FT: Percy Park 49 Morpeth 16
The second half performance was exceptional and after a difficult first half, all credit to Morpeth, whatever was said at the break clearly worked. The Park eight were excellent, particularly the second row pairing of Chris Reekie and Josh Hedley together with hooker Jonny Dubois. Five wins from five games, five try bonus points to sit at the summit of Regional 2 North. Centre Seb Reece, sadly injured with a hamstring problem but watching from the sidelines, believes that this team has the confidence and ability to make a real challenge for promotion this season and when player/coach Ash Smith was asked his opinion of the second half performance he made a one word reply: “Class”. It is hard to disagree. Morpeth worked exceptionally hard in the first half to deservedly lead at half time but were overwhelmed after the break with three yellow cards not helping their cause but their start to the season has been excellent and they will be there or thereabouts at the season’s end. We look forward to the return at Mitford Road in January. Our grateful thanks as always to today's referee, Adam Morrisson. There is no 1st XV game next week, the Alnwick County Cup game being postponed, with a visit to Consett in a fortnight the next league outing. We look forward to the return
Percy Park: 15 TobyDavison; 14 Howard Stock ©; 13 Paul Spowart; 12 Ash Smith; 11 Ross Young; 10 Fergus Simpson; 9 Andrew Walker; 8 Michael Langlands; 7 Leo Caulfield; 6 Andy Dunn; 5 Chris Reekie; 4 Josh Hedley; 3 Tristan Grant; 2 Jonny Dubois; 1 Sam Digman.
Replacements: Joe Thompson; Aaron Smith; Robin Houghton.