Olly good show in opening victory
Last updated at 14:01, Monday, 10 September 2012
“WHY are we playing someone from Albania?” queried a baffled elderly gent as we negotiated the lakes of the Tynedale Park car park on Saturday.
“They don’t play rugby; don’t they worship Norman Wisdom there?” he quavered.
I was able to explain that Old Albanians,Tynedale’s first opponents of the new season, were not the descendants of the Eastern European rulers of the Ottoman Empire, but rather a very good side from leafy St Albans in Hertfordshire.
They won promotion from National Two South by winning 19 consecutive matches, and arrived in good heart, having won 42-24 at Southend last Saturday, and beating Darlington Mowden Park 36-19 the previous week.
They were big, and looked a formidable outfit, while Tynedale were something of an unknown quantity, with lots of new faces on show in the pack.
The entire back row were debutants, and a late cry-off by George McGuigan meant Tynedale had to start without a recognised hooker.
But the result was a cracking game, perhaps not of the highest technical quality, but buzzing with high octane excitement as Tynedale ran in six tries for maximum points.
It was quite a day for number eight Olly Stedman, the ex-Westoe lad who spent the summer playing in Australia.
He was a little at sea in the first half, struggling to get involved, and missing a few tackles but all that changed in the second period,
He was shown a yellow card in the opening minute of the second half, during which time the visitors took the lead.
However, he returned like an avenging angel, snorting fire and brimstone, swatting away numerous opponents to score two excellent tries.
There was also a try for another of the back row newcomers, Ben Frankland, while Matthew Charters also made his presence felt.
However, it was old hand Hamish Smales who turned the game in Tynedale’s direction, with two tries in two minutes.
Tynedale’s superior fitness told in the last half hour, when the visitors wilted, but there remains much to work on.
The three tries they conceded were all give-aways, two coming from truly dreadful mistakes at Albanians restarts.
Tynedale just could not deal with the high, hanging balls put up by the opposition.
Matty Outson gave his usual polished performance at fly half, and landed four conversions.
However, they were all from in front of the posts, and he lacks the range and power required to take advantage of place kicks anyway in the opponents’ half.
With Gavin Beasley’s future uncertain since he threw his cap into the Rugby League ring with Gateshead Thunder, finding a place kicker is a priority.
Albanians started like an express train, and Tynedale hardly touched the ball in the opening 10 minutes.
Albanians should have scored after just four minutes, when centre Chris Lombard took advantage of some weak tackling to go into the 22 with three men outside him, and only full back Chris Harris between him and line.
The beautifully bronzed Harris got in a half tackle, which was enough for the ball to be lost forward.
Outson had a penalty attempt on nine minutes from just inside the 10 metre line and came creditably close, but there was no cigar.
Now securing a sniff of the ball at last, it didn’t take long for Tynedale to take the lead, when sustained pressure ended with Alan Rogers swooping to touch down for the opening try.
Outson popped over the conversion to put Tynedale 7-0 in front.
Referee Wayne Falla incensed the home faithful with a stream of penalties against Tynedale, but they kept their heads, and kept hammering away.
The front three of Andrew Harrison, David Dickinson and Alex Westgarth kept thundering away to soften up the Southerners, but forward passes and dropped balls took their toll.
Rogers and Smales were prominent when the ball did go wide, but 37 minutes had gone before Tynedale extended their lead.
Busy scrum half Harry Peck took a quick penalty, but was held, but Tynedale retained possession, with Ben Frankland eventually forcing his way over.
The kick was beyond Outson’s range, but Tynedale were 12-0 up.
Then came a bungled attempt at collecting the ball from the restart.
Possession went to Albanians, and after a good run from winger Ollie Marchon, full back Richard Gregg touched down in the corner.
He failed to convert his try, leaving the score at 12-5 at the interval.
The second half started disastrously as Stedman was yellow carded at the ruck following another bungled drop out.
Gregg kicked the resultant penalty to make it 12-8 with a minute gone.
Tynedale tried to get back into it, but a slack pass on the 22 was snapped up by scrum half Stefan Liedenberg, who scampered away for a gift interception try under the sticks, which Gregg improved to put the visitors ahead by 15-12.
Tynedale hit back on 12 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. They made a mess of a line-out, gifting possession to the visitors, but Mr Falla had spotted a knock-on.
From the scrum, the newly restored Stedman picked up, and drove over for a splendid try, which Outson converted to make it 19-15.
But again they made a mess of receiving the drop out, and Albanians flanker Billy Johnson could not believe his luck as he gathered the ball to go over unchallenged.
Gregg’s conversion took the score back to 22-19 to Old Albanians.
Tynedale were soon back on the attack, and were given a man advantage for 10 minutes when Andy Daish was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on which thwarted a promising Tynedale move.
Tynedale had an immediate chance to draw level from the penalty inside the Albanians 22, but skipper Jack Harrison chose a penalty scrum – which was re-set four times.
With the crowd screaming to go for the kick, skipper Jack Harrison kept his cool, and his faith in his forwards, and finally, to everyone’s relief, Smales stretched over to put Tynedale back in front.
Outson’s kick fell well short, but a minute later, Smales gathered the ball on his own 22 metre line, and embarked on one of his trademark swerving runs.
Bayed on by the crowd, he scorched 75 metres top touch down under the posts for Outson to convert, to make it 31-22.
The Albanians were wilting now, and with three minutes left, Stedman picked up at the base of the scrum and rumbled for the line, swatting off opponents like King Kong on the Empire State Building, to score try number six. Outson converted to round off an exhilarating opening day with maximum points.
First published at 09:12, Monday, 10 September 2012
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk