- Ken Bell
Saturday 13 January 2024
Morpeth 12 Percy Park 32
Regional 2 North
Park travelled the (relatively) short distance along the A192 for their second Regional 2 North league fixture of the new year at Morpeth RFC hoping to further cement their position at the top of the league table. This they did in a hard fought victory and in the process, maintained their excellent record of scoring a try bonus point in every league game played this season. Morpeth have struggled of late but the talk in the Clubhouse pre match was of the need for a strong Morpeth response to their “drubbing” at Durham City last time out and the home side did not disappoint, taking the game to the league leaders in a tough physical contest, particularly in the first half. The visitors made changes due to injury, illness and unavailability with Sam McDonald coming in on the left wing and youth graduate Lucas Rowell, on his Christmas break from Durham University, starting at fullback. Sam Digman started in the front row at tighthead prop.
On a dry, sunny (albeit cold) winter afternoon with very little breeze, Morpeth kicked off towards the Clubhouse with the slight wind at their backs. Rowell showed his intent immediately with a fine run to the left touchline and some good interplay with captain Howard Stock. On 4 minutes, a blistering run by Stock off his wing cut open the Morpeth defence with McDonald outside him with a clear run to the try line but the Captain could not get his pass away before the tackle. In their first meaningful foray into the visitors half, Morpeth were awarded a penalty just outside of the Park 22 for illegal hands in a ruck. Up stepped Morpeth standoff Jake McKay who was successful with the kick to the left of the Park posts on 6 minutes (3-0)
After the penalty, the game was played in the middle of the park for the next 10 minutes with neither side really able to generate momentum until Park were awarded two penalties in quick succession by referee Simon Williams that moved them into the right hand corner. From the lineout several drives were held up by Morpeth before Park knocked on and the hosts were able to clear their lines. As the game entered the second quarter, the visitors scored the first try of the match. In centre field, scrum half Andrew Walker in a clever loop move with second row Josh Hedley opened up space which was exploited by standoff Fergus Simpson. As the tackle came in he was able to pass to No 8 Leo Caulfield who was on his shoulder for a fine try on 22 minutes. This was converted by Paul Spowart (3-7).
Two minutes later Park scored again. From the kick off, Park played out of their 22 as they often do, showing adventure, with Walker again exploiting space to break the Morpeth defence. An excellent kick ahead was chased by Rowell at speed who managed to kick ahead, gather and score a great try 10 yards infield from the right touchline on 24 minutes. Paul Spowart converted (3-14).
From the kick off Park again attempted to play out of their 22 but were penalised for crossing and with an easy kick at goal, McKay doubled the home team’s points on 26 minutes (6-14). Park were immediately on the attack from the kick off and another great line from Rowell off an inside pass from Josh Hedlay had the Morpeth defence stretched but an offence at an ensuing ruck allowed Morpeth to clear their lines. As the home side attempted to put some phases together, Park blind side flanker Jonny Dubois was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on when attempting to intercept a Morpeth pass and was immediately given a yellow card on the half hour. Morpeth sensed their opportunity forcing the visitors to concede a penalty at a maul on the Park 22, 5 yards in from the right touchline which was duly despatched by McKay on 32 minutes (9-14). The last minutes of the half were littered with errors, both sides penalised for infringements; on 35 minutes Park were awarded a penalty for Morpeth not releasing in the tackle, kicked by Spowart (9-17) only for Morpeth to respond after a high tackle by second row Chris Reekie on the 22 to the right of the posts which was converted by McKay (12-17). With seconds to go in the first half, Park were awarded a penalty on the Morpeth 10 metre line but back chat to referee Williams resulted in a 10 yard march back enabling Paul Spowart to line up the penalty kick, to the left of the posts midway in the Morpeth half, which was duly despatched (12-20).
HT: Morpeth 12 Percy Park 20
The second half saw Park applying early pressure; a no arms tackle on scrum half Walker resulted in a line out in the right hand corner but the catch and subsequent drive broke down after the ball was knocked on and the chance was lost. The visitors were not to be denied for long. As the ball was moved left and then right around the Morpeth 22 a fine grubber kick by centre Paul Spowart was gathered by the alert Jonny Dubois at pace to score an excellent try wide on the right on 48 minutes. “That’s heads up rugby from Spow” our revered El Presidente was heard to mutter. Indeed it was. The conversion was missed (12-25).
As the match progressed, Morpeth were struggling to stay in the game as Park applied pressure but a forward pass after Dubois was tackled on the try line and a Morpeth scrum penalty awarded with Park in an extremely promising position let the hosts off the hook and frustrated the visitors who were searching for the bonus point try. It finally arrived after 69 minutes when another catch and drive in the left hand corner broke down but the ball was gathered by second row Josh Hedley who was driven over 10 yards infield. The try was converted by Spowart (12-32).
The last 10 minutes had Park still testing the Morpeth defence but without troubling the scoreboard. Prop Tristan Grant on the charge shredded the Morpeth defence late in the game but the move broke down as the ball was recycled and again the chance was lost.
FT: Morpeth 12 Percy Park 32
Try scorer Jonny Dubois admitted that it was a tough encounter but emphasised the fact that four tries were scored and numerous chances were created, just not taken. He stressed the excellence of Park’s defence, with no tries conceded in the last two league games. “A try bonus point away from home, still top of the league so we keep going and look forward to Aspatria next week”. Park’s man of the match Lucas Rowell had an excellent game at fullback, centre Paul Spowart was prominent in both attack and defence and in the forwards the back row played well with both Dubois and No 8 Leo Caulfield continuing their regular try scoring. The introduction of replacement scrum half Robin Houghton lifted the tempo and urgency as the try bonus point was sought.
Morpeth took the game to Park, particularly in the first half, which frustrated the visitors as the home side forced penalties. However, the second half was a different story and, in truth, Morpeth never really threatened the Park try line, and there were a number of missed opportunities for the visitors to have added to the scoreboard. Defensively, Park were excellent and for the second successive game did not concede a try. We remain eight points clear of second place Northern, who won comfortably at Cockermouth on Saturday, at the top of the Regional 2 North table.
For Morpeth standoff Jake McKay played very well before injury curtailed his match but they lacked a real cutting edge. They now lie eighth in the league table and next face two tough away games at Upper Eden and Middlesbrough. We thank them for their wonderful hospitality and a good game played in the right spirit and wish them well for the remainder of the season. Our thanks also to referee Simon Williams, we hope to see him at Preston Avenue in the not too distant future.
Next week, Park are again on the road at Aspatria in the rearranged league game postponed in December, KO is at 2pm and all support would be most welcome. Aspatria are currently fifth in the Regional 2 North league table and boast a 100% winning record at Bower Park this season so Park can expect a very tough game. On Sunday, 21 January, the Panthers take on Gateshead at Preston Avenue hoping to strengthen their place as league leaders in NC 3 North (North) and, again, all support would be welcome.
Percy Park: 15 Lucas Rowell; 14 Howard Stock ©; 13 Ash Smith; 12 Paul Spowart; 11 Sam McDonald; 10 Fergus Simpson; 9 Andrew Walker; 8 Leo Caulfield; 7 Jake Smith; 6 Jonny Dubois; 5 Josh Hedley; 4 Chris Reekie; 3 Sam Digman; 2 Dan Shuttleworth; 1 Aaron Smith.
Replacements: Matt Atkinson; Tristan Grant; Robin Houghton