PERCY PARK 73 – 3 WHITLEY BAY ROCKCLIFF
The annual Boxing Day encounter between Percy Park and Rockcliff is the oldest remaining fixture in both club’s itinerary, and this year the game was held at Preston Avenue in near perfect conditions for September let alone December 26th. The previous two games in 2010 and 2009 had been thwarted by frost and snow. Park made a few last minute changes with the unavailability of Marcus Rutter and Simon Greatham, but otherwise were able to field a full strength 1st XV.
Rockcliff kicked off with the wind behind them and were awarded a penalty within the first minute, but Josh Donnelly’s kick at goal was off target. The visitors had some decent early possession, but as the game wore on, Park’s dominance at the set piece starved them of any meaningful ball and the points began to rack up for the home side.
Park’s first score came on the seven minute mark from lively 19 year old open side Jack Davidson and the conversion by Ash Smith opened a 7 – 0 lead. Rockcliff came back five minutes later with a Donnelly penalty, and although the home side had more of the possession the Rockcliff defence held firm until on 27 minutes Andy Dunn crossed the whitewash finishing off a well executed catch and drive from a line out.
When the visitors were penalised for pulling down a maul, the ball was kicked to the corner and another catch and drive resulted in Park’s third try of the game this time from Greg Dixon. The conversion was off target but Park now led 17 -3. Even at this early stage Park’s superior organisation and fitness was beginning to show as Greg Dixon popped up on the left wing to finish off a good move started by an Ali Blair break in midfield. Sadly Ash Smith had left his kicking boots at home.
With the half time break approaching Ash Smith made a telling break through the Rockcliff defensive line and a desperate last ditch tackle by Donnelly saved a certain try. Rock were penalised however for not releasing the tackled player and Olly Gilmore took a quick tap and spun the ball wide right to find flanker Greg Dixon on hand to score his third try of the match. At half time Percy Park led 27 – 3 and Rockcliff literally faced an uphill battle in the second period.
Park restarted the game and very quickly were encamped in the visitors 22. They threw everything at the Rockcliff line and with referee John Ash signalling advantage for offside in front of the posts prop Alan Blakey found a gap in a ruck to pick up and burst through from 10 metres out to score under the sticks. Ash Smith converted to take the score up to 34 -3 after 44 minutes.
Park have consistently out scrummage sides in the league this season and throughout the game had denied Rockcliff any decent ball from the set piece. From a scrum on half way Rockcliff fumbled the ball at the base and Olly Gilmore quickly pounced snatching possession and feeding Smith who set off down the left hand side before give a well timed pass to 18 year old Howard Stock on the wing to score. The conversion from wide out stretched Park’s advantage to 41 – 3.
Johnny Ward on the left wing had hardly touched the ball all game, and switching to the right found himself in space after a well executed chip through from the outside of Olly Gilmore’s boot. Ward picked up the ball and crossed the line to score on 52 minutes, but the try remained unconverted.
Both sides had used a large bench to give as many of their players a game with an extended break in the league, and Jimmy Baldwin came on at scrum half for a brief cameo. With the Rock scrum under all kinds of pressure, the Park number 9 dived on a scrappy ball from a Rockcliff scrum. The ball was off loaded to James Ponton who passed to Paul Spowart who had come on at fly half. A well timed chip into space again found Johnny Ward for the tall wing to score his second try of the game.
The Park forwards who had dominated the scrum and line out had won ample possession for their back line. Andy Dunn in particular had carried the ball on numerous occasions, and tackle after tackle by the Rockcliff defence kept Park out. Seam Williamson came close to scoring but was felled close to the line. The recycled ball found Ash Smith who threw a long pass to Howard Stock who had appeared on his opposite wing to cross the line unopposed for Park’s 10th try of the game, and with a full 20 minutes remaining Percy Park were leading 56 – 3.
With the visitors tiring, there were more and more gaps appearing in their defence and Jimmy Baldwin exploited this with a quick break from the back of a ruck. He broke down the right and offered to pass but dummied instead before dummying fullback Rich Berne to cross the line, pull his hamstring and leave the pitch. The try was converted by Ash Smith.
Park’s final tries were from the evergreen George Purdy, (his second in two weeks) and then Johnny Ward completed his hat-trick on 80 minutes to end the game 73 – 3.
A good crowd was well entertained, and the charity McMillan Nurses will benefit from the generosity of those who paid to get in.
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