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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tynedale’s tears of joy after incredible fightback

TEARS ran unashamedly down the wizened cheeks of rheumy-eyed veterans of a thousand Tynedale games on Saturday.

“Give me a relegation dogfight over mid-table mediocrity any time,” croaked a hoarse veteran of Tynedale’s famous John Player Cup battle with Coventry a quarter of a century ago.

For yet again, Tynedale had pulled off a seemingly impossible victory against one of the blue bloods of National Division One.

Trailing 25-7 after less than 20 minutes against a Coventry side bristling with exotic South Africans and three Welsh internationals, Tynedale seemed set for the sort of hiding that was routine in the first half of the season.

They gamely fought back, but with 20 minutes left, they were still 35-17 down with a man in the sin bin.

But with enormous resolve, they clawed their way back into the game, and started knocking back the brobdingnagian Midlanders, who came to Corbridge on the back of four straight wins.

Tynedale’s magnificent pack took control, with the aid of centre supreme Ben Frankland, to turn certain defeat into glorious victory.

The Corbridge stand was rocked to its foundations as the crowd roared on virtually the entire Tynedale side as they joined in driving mauls in the closing stages.

It was a famous victory, and while Frankland got the plaudits – his two tries took his total for the season to 17, just two behind the league’s leading scorer David Allen of Blackheath – it’s easy to under estimate the contribution of fly half Gavin Beasley to the victory.

He’s no Phil Belgian, but on his day, the Cumbrian has the knack of landing crucial kicks – and this was his day.

He contributed a penalty and four conversions, including a couple from the touchline, and one of them actually bounced on top of the crossbar on its way over.

Such are the margins between success and failure.

Tynedale were without the mighty presence of lock Andy Buist thanks to a back problem, but lanky Glen Young was a more than adequate replacement, especially in the line-out.

Even when the influential Harrison Collins went off at half time with a leg injury, Stuart Johnson was an excellent replacement in a side without a weak link.

Scrum half Greg Illingworth had a superb game, crowned by a solo run which began in his own 22, and took him through half the Coventry side, before ending in a try in the corner.

After the first 20 minutes, a Tynedale victory seemed about as likely as Lionel Messi turning up at Kimberly Park and asking for a trial with Prudhoe Town.

Coventry, in their unfamiliar red away kit, were bristling with confidence, and it seemed well placed when Tynedale knocked on the kick-off.

They did not touch the ball again for several minutes as Coventry pinged it around in style.

Winger Will Hurrell was over the line after two minutes, but was held up, though the respite was only temporary.

From the scrum, Coventry were over again, and this time there was no stopping hooker Chris Locke from claiming the opening try on four minutes.

Coventry’s South African full back Cliffie Hodgson needed just 10 points to break his own club scoring record, but surprisingly missed the relatively straight forward conversion.

Three minutes later though, Tynedale were penalised for failing to release the ball in the tackle, and Hodgson opened his account from the penalty tee for 8-0.

From the restart, Tynedale got their hands on the ball for just about the first time, and after a ground-shaking run by flanker Dan Temm, hooker Dave Nelson powered over on the left.

Beasley’s conversion brought Tynedale within a point, but with his radar now tuned in, Hodgson added a penalty on 12 minutes when Tynedale pulled down a scrum.

The visitors stretched away two minutes later, when scrum half Pierre Ferre was allowed to dance through some poor tackling to put fellow Springbok Jacques La Roux in for a try.

Hodgson converted to make it 18-7, and three minutes later was lining up another kick, after an hugely ambitious long pass from Frankland on the edge of the Coventry 22 was easily intercepted by Hurrell, who loped the length of the field to score.

Hodgson’s conversion made it 25-7 with 17 minutes gone, and Tynedale were in big trouble.

They decided attack was the best form of defence, and a quickly taken penalty by Illingworth saw Hamish Smales produce a deft kick ahead, which Coventry were glad to touch down behind their own line.

Tynedale were living dangerously, and were a whisker away from conceding another interception as they pressed hard.

They turned down an easy penalty in front of the posts to go for a scrum that came to nothing, but when a similar opportunity presented itself on 29 minutes, Beasley slotted it over.

Coventry were pressing hard on 34 minutes when they lost possession on the edge of the Tynedale 22, and there was Illingworth to scoop up the loose ball and jink, dodge and shimmy his way the length of the field for a memorable solo try.

All Coventry could do was shepherd him out wide, but Beasley’s eye was in, with a kick into the wind which bounced off the crossbar on its way over for 25-15.

Tynedale had the tails up now, but disaster struck when they were called for crossing just outside the Coventry 10 metre line.

Hodgson slotted the kick with nonchalant ease to set a new club record for league points in a season with a staggering 312.

That gave Coventry a more than useful 28-17 half time lead.

The opening 15 minutes of the second half were desultory, before a scrappy scrum saw Dan Temm shown a yellow card for reasons unexplained.

Coventry opted for the penalty scrum against a seven man pack, and soon engineered a generous overlap for Le Roux to scamper in for his second try.

Hodgson’s conversion took the visitors into a seemingly unassailable 35-17 lead.

But even a man short, Tynedale kept plugging away inducing a knock on on the hour.

Tynedale poured forward from the scrum, and the now beardless Smales burrowed through a forest of legs for Tynedale’s third try, well converted by Beasley to make it 35-24.

Coventry replied by getting over the Tynedale line, but they were held up, and from then on, it was all Tynedale.

They won a scrum against the head when still a man short, and with eight minutes left, a long kick gave them a line out five metres out.

The catch and drive has become as polished as a guardsman’s toecap and when Frankland joined the milling throng, there was only going to be one outcome.

The try guaranteed a bonus point, and Beasley’s long-range conversion was majestic to take the score of 35-31.

With two minutes left, the routine was repeated in the same spot, with every man jack of the Tynedale squad joining in the shove which allowed Frankland to apply the coup de grace.

Beasley’s kick was narrowly wide, but Tynedale had their noses in front for the first time, and made sure they stayed there.

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