It takes something to dim the lustre of Underley Park but the weather Gods achieved it with a leaden sky and teeming cold rain for the duration of the match, all the locals knew the surrounding fells were there but they were shrouded in a heavy clinging mist which seemed to have a similar consistency to mushroom soup. The kick off was brought forward to 2pm to gain the most of the daylight hours but it didn’t matter, it was already dark then.
Local hero Dave Barton was back for this game and the warm reception he received onto the pitch was testament to the affection and respect this gifted player has in the Club and on the touchline. On the downside stand off Mike Fearon was injured, and further injuries robbed the pack of Dave Maka, Alex Rogers and Stu Storey, Barton taking the ten shirt.
In this first ever fixture between the two Clubs Blaydon kicked off towards the Town and applied the early pressure. Handling in these conditions was extremely difficult for both teams and a Kirkby clearance kick was charged down, Kirkby couldn’t regain the ball which bounced kindly for the visitors and they were over by the posts after nine minutes for their first try, converted for 0 – 7.
At the end of the first quarter Blaydon were edging it but without adding to their score. In the conditions the visitors were employing a tactical kicking game to get field position although the back three of Kirkby, Andrew Bargh, Harry Huddleston and Harry Ralston were secure under the high balls and ran them back with enthusiasm whenever the opportunities arose.
With twenty five minutes played Blaydon struck again, this time from just inside their own half when some powerful running and slick offloads got them over for another converted try to make the score 0 – 14. Blaydon did have a penalty shot at goal after thirty four minutes but it went wide and there were no further scores in the half.
At 0 – 14 there was room for optimism and this grew as Kirkby made a hot start to the second half and pressured the Blaydon line. A try looked on and there was one but not the expected one because something went wrong. Blaydon came up with the ball and ran from behind their own line to score in the left corner, the conversion missed but the lead had extended to 0 – 19 with four second half minutes played and now the task did look uphill.
It may have been in an effort to keep warm but whatever the reason a scuffle broke out in the twelfth minute. The ref, Mr Dave Charlton of the Northumberland Society, halted the game, spoke at length to the Captains and then, rather surprisingly since it hadn’t been an ill tempered match and given the greasy conditions, issued red cards to Kirkby’s number four Gareth Gore and Blaydon’s fourteen James Cooney(?)
On eighteen minutes Mr Charlton was back in the action again when he got a little too close to the play and got clattered requiring attention from the physio’s before he could resume to loud cheers. This slightly humorous incident preceded Blaydon’s fourth try when their forwards got a drive going to score wide out right, the conversion again missed and it was 0 – 24 at the end of the third quarter.
Five minutes later a missed tackle let the visitors in again, again no conversion but at 0 – 29 Kirkby were in damage limitation territory as the game went into time added on. Although with forty three minutes on the second half clock Blaydon did make their final score, a converted try to make it 0 – 36 when the final whistle went and that was that.
Kirkby did have more than a few moments in the match which caused Blaydon plenty of trouble and they hammered on to the final whistle. Afterwards wise old heads were trying to remember the last time Kirkby had failed to score at home but they couldn’t remember. That said, Kirkby had several kickable penalty chances which would have put points on the board but these were routinely spurned in favour of lineout or scrum try scoring opportunities, but it just wasn’t working on the day. Kirkby do remain in mid-table and will hope to have everyone fit for the away game at Kendal next week.
Blaydon have played most of their rugby in the higher National Two North League and, having been demoted last season, seem determined to return to that level with all speed. Although they now seem to be playing for second place against Billingham who got hammered on Saturday at Hull, who appear to have the title well sewn up before Christmas.