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Friday, 29 May 2015

Students push Tyne closer to drop zone

FOR the first time in their history, Tynedale first XV are dangling their toes in the murky waters of relegation.

Since the start of league rugby in 1989, Tynedale have enjoyed two promotions, but have never been relegated.

And while with two thirds of the season still to go it is very early to talk of the drop, the signs are distinctly worrying.

Tynedale have lost to all three of the sides currently occupying the relegation places – two of them at home.

There was an air of despondency about the team at Corbridge on Saturday, when they slumped to an embarrassingly one-sided defeat at the hands of the downy-cheeked Loughborough Students.

It was their second successive home defeat, and their fifth on the bounce, and the alarm bells were a clamour in the stands.

“If we are being thrashed by the bottom clubs, what hope have we against the better ones?” wondered one anguished alickadoo.

It’s only a couple of seasons since Tynedale Park was the equivalent of Fort Knox, with a record-breaking 37 home wins in a row.

However, they have only managed a meagre four wins from their last 10 home games, which is worrying.

Confidence is at rock bottom, with the game littered with unforced errors and tactical naivety. The scrum was solid enough, and the tackling mostly sound, but yet again, the line-out was shambolic, with the thrower seldom finding his man.

There seemed little urgency, as players sauntered to their places for line-outs, and then did a little square dance, changing places frequently. but rarely winning the ball when the throw eventually came in.

There were flashes of individual brilliance, with some knifing runs, but attacking players seldom found anyone on their shoulder in support.

Scoring chances were scarcer than vacant parking spaces in the centre of Corbridge, and a tangible gloom hung over Corbridge as Tynedale were outgunned and outmanoeuvred in every department.

To exacerbate matters, the Students’ chief destroyer was a former Tynedale player, the ex-RGS fly half Andy Hall.

On a wet day, with a slippery ball, his positional kicking and nous was an example of what Tynedale should have been doing.

Tynedale welcomed back Hamish Smales on the wing for the first time since shattering his hand in the opening game of the season.

He returned with three pins holding the hand together, and celebrated with his customary try.

There was also a welcome return in the pack for Greg Irvin, his considerable bulk adding stability to the pack in the second row.

Skipper Jack Harrison also reappeared, his bad back patched up by the bonesetter.

However, the versatile Matty Outson was sidelined, having suffered a knock on the head the previous week.

Tynedale again started well, camping in the Students’ half for the opening five minutes, without really creating any clear cut chances.

Then the Students made their first foray into Tynedale territory, and won a penalty, which Hall banged over from 40 metres to put them in front.

Tynedale’s reply was swift, with a break by Ben Frankland creating a gap on the left, and there was the flame-haired flier Smales, scorching down the wing to cross the try line.

Clearly remembering his side’s kicking frailties, he ran round behind the posts before touching down, and fly half George Cullen converted to put Tynedale 7-3 up with six minutes gone.

A thundering run by Loughborough number eight Joe Burton seemed sure to bring a try, but he was bundled into touch by a great tackle by number eight Ollie Steadman.

The defensive lineout should have brought relief, but Tynedale lost the ball, and had to endure still more pressure before the lines were cleared.

The Students were soon back though, and a superb tackle by full back Peter Moralee on his opposite number prevented a certain try.

However, the Students regained possession, and after probing on the left, Hall produced a delightful cross kick the width of the field, for right winger Alex Davis to gather and score.

The kick failed, but the Students had their noses back in front at 8-7.

Tynedale had the chance to hit straight back, but to his own annoyance, scrum half Harry Peck knocked on.

They had to wait until the 33rd minute to respond, when after a period of pressure, number eight Stedman drove through the front of a line-out to score an unconverted try.

Cullen missed a penalty on 37 minutes, but with referee Marcus Caton having signalled last play, Hall casually thumped over his second penalty to make it 12-11 at half time.

A Hall penalty fell short early in the second period, but Tynedale were guilty of indiscipline soon after.

The officials missed a Loughborough knock-on, and flanker Joe Robinson hacked out at the loose ball in frustration.

It sailed straight to the Students’ swift backs, who attacked in numbers and within minutes, flanker Joe Atkinson was touching down for a gift try, which Hall converted for 18-12.

Tyne tried to come back, Harrison and Stedman bursting into the Students’ 22 where the ball went to ground.

They counter-attacked with deadly efficiency, running the ball the length of the field, through some feeble tackling, for prop Jack Collister to score under the posts.

Hall’s conversion made it a worrying 23-12 with 15 minutes left.

To their credit, Tynedale did come back, with a snarling burst by Stedman leading to a well deserved try for Ben Frankland.

Replacement Toby Davison, on for Cullen, saw his conversion attempt come back off the posts, but Tynedale were only a converted try behind at 23-17.

Tynedale have always tended to come on strong on the end of games, but on Saturday, it was Loughborough who outstayed their hosts and finished well on top.

They increased their lead in 74 minutes, when clever running and support play carved a massive hole in the Tynedale defence, through which the excellent Burton galloped for a fine bonus point try, which Hall converted.

Tynedale finished the game with 14 men, as Stuart Johnson was yellow carded with five minutes left.

It was therefore no surprise when the Students got their fifth try, with Tynedale parting like the Red Sea for prop Harry Williams to score.

With Hall’s work done, it was left to full back Craig Holland to convert to complete the rout.