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Monday, 01 September 2014

Tyne rewrite script for the leaders

DAMAGE limitation was expected to be the name of the game when league leaders Ealing Trailfinders came to Corbridge on Saturday.

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Tynedale’s Ollie Stedman is tackled during Saturday’s tense match against Ealing.

After being a virtually impregnable fortress for decades, Tynedale Park has become about as robust as a Bamburgh sandcastle.

Tynedale have lost six of their last seven games at Corbridge, in their worst home run single joining the league system in 1987.

For their part, the Londoners have been something of an irresistible force, topping the table throughout this season, after narrowly losing out to Jersey last term.

The statistics therefore indicated Tynedale would be in for a tough time, especially as they were without influential skipper Jack Harrison, still nursing his sprung rib.

However, Tynedale had forgotten to read the script, and produced one of their best performances of the season to give Ealing the fright of their lives.

Tynedale took the game to their illustrious visitors, and stormed into a 15-0 lead in the run up to half time.

And in the dying stages, they could have salvaged a draw when they had an eminently kickable penalty.

It was well within the range of new kicker Ollie Stedman, but with Ealing reeling, Tynedale opted to go for the try which would have won the game.

They kicked to touch – but to the immense relief of the visitors, made a hash of the line out, and surrendered possession.

They had to be content with yet another losing bonus point, taking their tally for the season to 16 – more than any other side in the league.

Eight of their 12 defeats have been by seven points or fewer, and what a difference a reliable kicker in the first half of the season would have made!

There was great anticipation before the game of the clash between Tynedale’s fiery number eight Ollie Stedman, and his opposite number Sam Shires, who was of course a popular Tynedale player before heading south.

It was a clash which Stedman won on points, keeping his volcanic temper under control for most of the time, and helping himself to a penalty and a couple of conversions.

All Shires had to show was a somewhat harsh yellow card for a late tackle – apart from the sweet taste of victory, that is!

Having hopefully solved the calamitous place kicking crisis, Tynedale’s problem continues to be the line-out, where their success rate was again woeful.

And the faithful continued to despair at Tynedale’s propensity for kicking away possession down the centre of the field, gifting possession to the opposition.

Despite their lofty position in the table, Ealing are notoriously slow starters, and Tynedale so nearly took advantage in the opening minute.

A low kick by fly half Matty Outson found touch five metres out, but the line out was lost.

A knock on gave Tynedale a scrum close to the line, but they lost the ball against the head too.

However, Tynedale continued to push forward, and got their reward on six minutes.

Ealing had managed to get out of their own half for the first time, but an excellent counter attack was instigated by the excellent Ben Frankland.

He slipped the ball to Tynedale’s leading try scorer Peter Moralee on halfway, and the frail-looking flier erupted like a startled springbok.

He left green-shirted visitors clutching at shadows as he dodged and weaved between them before touching down for the opening try.

The question of who would take the place kicks was soon answered, as Big Ollie grabbed the tee, and sent the conversion between the sticks.

And Tynedale were almost over again two minutes later, when Frankland seemed to be clear, but an exquisite ankle tap sent him sprawling.

Stedman was given the chance to prove his conversion was no fluke on 13 minutes, when Ealing were caught tackling a man without the ball 30 metres out.

With his two step “run up” and spectacular nose evacuation, Stedman smacked over the kick to put Tynedale 10- 0 in front.

Tynedale’s star ascended still further on 20 minutes, when Shires was deemed to have committed a late tackle after a kick through, although it must be said he appeared to be in the air and committed to the tackle when the kick was launched.

Referee Andrew Taylorson saw it differently, and the ex-Tynedale man was yellow carded.

Tynedale pressed hard to make their extra man count, but Ealing were starting to find their feet, and put in some sterling defensive work to keep them at bay. But with Shires on the touchline waiting to come back on, Tynedale struck again through the deadly Moralee.

The try was made by the effervescent scrum half Harry Peck, who was scampering away with a tap penalty almost before the whistle had gone.

He made the 22, and then hurled out a long pass to the wing, where Moralee was waiting to gobble up his 12th try of the season.

Stedman struck the conversion attempt well, but the ball went across the face of the posts to leave Tynedale with an unexpected but thoroughly merited 15-0 lead as half time approached.

However, Ealing are not top of the table for nothing, and as Tynedale’s minds drifted towards the changing room, they scored twice in a minute.

Both tries came from the league’s leading try scorer, winger Phil Chesters, in a devastating spell of finishing.

Tynedale had appeared to be coping well, and might have scored again following a knifing break from full back Chris Harris.

However, the ball was lost, the counter attack launched, and Chesters was over for the try.

Skipper Ben Ward’s kick was awry, but straight from the restart, Ealing sliced through again, and Chesters slid over on his belly to make it 15-10 and collapse Tynedale’s souffle.

Ealing stepped up a gear at the start of the second half, looking dangerous every time they got the ball.

There was some good Tynedale tackling, notably from Outson, Stedman and David Dickinson, but Tynedale finally kicked away possession once too often.

The ball came back at them, Tynedale ran out of tacklers, and centre Tom Wheatcroft nipped in for the equalising try.

Ward missed his third conversion attempt, but the scores were level.

Virtually straight from the restart, Ealing broke through again, and seemed to have scored the bonus point try, but to Tynedale’s relief, Mr Taylorson had spotted an offside, and awarded Tynedale a penalty.

The respite was only temporary, for Ealing cranked up the pressure again, probing hard at the line before shiny-skulled replacement Lee Starling forced his way over for the fourth try.

Wheatcroft had taken over the kicking duties, and had no problem in making it 22-15.

Many sides would have crumbled, but Tynedale are made of sterner stuff, and were soon hunting in the Ealing 22.

A chip and chase by winger Hamish Smales just failed to bear fruit, before they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. They eschewed the three points in favour of running the ball, but the spirit of adventure came to nothing, thanks to a marginal forward pass.

That didn’t stop the mercurial Peck running another penalty on 67 minutes, and this time, he found flanker Sam Reynolds in support.

Reynolds, unrecognisable without his long locks flopping from beneath a helmet, skated in close to the posts.

Stedman landed the tricky conversion, and the scores were level again.

Ealing got their noses in front again with 10 minutes left when replacement Andrew Murray was penalised for going in at the side of a maul, and Wheatcroft wobbled over a 35 metre penalty.

The Tynedale response was instant, as they took play down to the other end, where the visibly tiring Ealing players conceded a penalty within comfortable range for Stedman.

However, Tynedale wanted a win, not a draw, and kicked to the corner.

The line-out was won cleanly, but a Tynedale player then ran into his own man, giving Ealing a relieving scrum.

It was just about the last time Tynedale touched the ball, as the league leaders expertly ran down the clock to claim maximum points.

With second placed Blaydon going down to Richmond, they also extended their lead at the top of the table to seven points.

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