Billingham 48 – 26 Kirkby Lonsdale

Billingham Bonus
A personal view by Cammie Hodgkinson
Billingham are flying this season, undefeated at home, sharing top spot with Hull on thirty nine points each and taking second place only on points difference. No doubting the difficulty of the task but there was reason for some optimism as the faithful made their way over route 66 to the North East, it was gloomy over the Pennines but the faithful pressed on.
Skipper Dave Barton and Ben Walker were unavailable for this game although without these senior and influential players the side still had a good look about it, Tom Pickthall captaining on the day. Hooker Tom Burtonwood has returned to Fylde after his loan spell but the squad was bolstered by the return of Ryan Terry at full back.
There is no doubting that artificial surfaces have a different feel and visiting sides can take a little time to settle in and familiarise at match pace, this is an advantage not lost on teams who play on these surfaces and they grasp the opportunity of a quick start. Kirkby kicked off towards the clubhouse in bright sunshine and little wind and Billingham obliged by dropping the ball giving Kirkby an early scrum but they couldn’t profit from the position and possession and when the ball went Billingham’s way they counter attacked up the middle of the field then flung the ball wide in typical fashion.
Their winger was tackled but the ball went infield and their forwards drove over but were held up under the posts. From the five metre scrum they drove over again but were again held up for another five metre scrum but this time they moved the ball wide to score by the right corner flag. The conversion was wide but the home side had the quick points on the board they would have wanted and led 5 – 0 after five minutes.
A penalty gave the home side a chance for an attacking lineout some ten metres from the line, their catch and drive was  good and this gave them their second try, this time converted to make it 12 – 0 with ten minutes played. Kirkby hit back with a long touch kick from Scott Armstrong which took play into the home twenty two, Kirkby stole the Billingham throw and attacked the line but were unfortunate to knock on when a try looked on. Billingham cleared from the scrum but Kirkby ran it back and were having the better of play although they couldn’t put points on the board as the first quarter came to a close.
With Billingham back on the attack Kirkby were penalised when the tackler didn’t roll away but the home side spurned the kickable three points and opted for a scrum some fifteen metres out. Billingham heeled it ok but Kirkby held the scrum and the ball went into open play, the Kirkby defence was good and back in possession they attempted to clear to touch but missed. A costly error since Billingham caught it and ran it down the line and some slick passing and fast running resulted in their third try, the conversion taking the score to 19 – 0 on the half hour.
Kirkby were settling now, a penalty gave them a lineout ten metres out and a clean catch set up a successful drive over but this time it was Kirkby’s turn to be held up. They attacked again from the five metre scrum, drew in defenders then spun a long pass out wide to right wing Harry Ralston who stepped inside his covering winger to score Kirkby’s first try, an excellent conversion from Mike Fearon putting points on the board at 19 – 7 with thirty four minutes played.
It would have been ideal to go in at half time with this recovery and momentum but Kirkby didn’t deal cleanly with the Billingham restart. The ball came the home sides way and their forwards attacked down the middle, the drive was held but another typical long pass out found their left wing who grub kicked through and outpaced the cover for the try. The conversion made the score 26 – 7 after thirty eight minutes, Kirkby did have a chance to narrow the gap with a kick at goal when Billingham didn’t release the restart kick but the ball drifted wide and there was no change to the score when the half time whistle went.
It was a decent margin for the home side but Kirkby came out fighting in the second half with a long penalty from Armstrong which looked as though it was going to be too long but it hit the Billingham corner flag and bounced into touch, that’s precision. Kirkby caught their lineout throw and drove, a Billingham infringement gave Kirkby a scrum from which Prop Dan Thompson scored his first and Kirkby’s second try, Fearon adding the conversion to narrow the gap to 26 – 14 with only three second half minutes on the clock.
Billingham were now the side under pressure as Kirkby came more and more into the game but the balance swung back the home sides way after eleven minutes when Kirkby’s young second row James Fishwick was yellow carded for a late tackle. He should have joined a Billingham player in the bin who moments earlier had been on the ground on the Kirkby side of a ruck and whilst lying there grabbed the ball but somehow the ref missed it.
Billingham were good enough to exploit the man advantage with a try from their number eight but the conversion missed to make the score 31 – 14 after fifteen minutes. At this stage it was an even contest and ten minutes later after a period of pressure near the home line it was Dan Thompson who again crashed over for his second and Kirkby’s third try. Fearon’s kick hit the post and bounced out but the gap had closed to 31 – 19 inside the final quarter and the faithful had plenty to shout about.
However, Billingham are not in second place for no reason and they upped their strong running game, a missed tackle let them in under the posts for a converted try and it was 38 – 19 with twelve minutes of the second half to play. During which Kirkby seemed to have weathered a storm of Billingham pressure when Kirkby’s young winger Andrew Bargh picked up a loose ball on his twenty two, there was no one home at Billingham and stepping a player he had a clear run to the line only for the ref, agonisingly, to bring play back for an earlier Kirkby infringement.
Billingham forwards attacked from the resulting scrum, Kirkby resisted but could not prevent the try which went unconverted to make the score 43 – 19 with six minutes of normal time to play. This was a decisive margin but Kirkby weren’t done and it was that man again Dan Thompson, now a hat trick hero, who scored his third and Kirkby’s fourth and bonus point try, Fearon nailed the conversion to make the score 43 – 26 as full time approached. Billingham did score again in time added on, an unconverted try to make the final score 48 – 26 but Kirkby had their point. Billingham are a skilful and exciting side to watch and were well worth the win but they had to work very hard to get it.
After thirty two by Sandal twenty six is the second highest score Billingham have conceded at home this season and four try bonus points by visiting teams there are rarer than hens teeth. This was a just reward for a sterling performance by the Kirkby squad which leaves them mid table and they can be proud of their efforts.
1   Braden Schiller
2   Dan Armistead
3   Ross Hobbs
4   James Fishwick
5   Leandro Kwiczor
6   Alex Rogers
7   Stu Storey
8   Dave Maka
9   Harry Huddleston
10 Mike Fearon
11 Andrew Bargh
12 Tom Pickthall
13 Scott Armstrong
14 Harry Ralston
15 Ryan Terry
16 Dan Thompson
17 James Thompson
18 Craig Galbraith