Another year, another victory: for the second consecutive year Northumbria have bested Newcastle in the Stan Calvert fixture. In terms of their respective league or cup campaigns, nothing was to be gained at Druid Park on Wednesday. However, these teams battled for something far greater: pride, both for themselves and for their respective universities.
The game began at a furious pace with huge hits flying in left, right and Centre. The ferocity of the defence, however, was more than matched by both team’s temerity in attack. Newcastle by far looked the more dangerous in the opening exchanges; messieurs Tisdale and Teasdale in the Centre’s seemed to have the edge over their opponents from the very beginning, making ground at every possible opportunity. Uni looked certain to strike first and after an intricate and devilish move started in the centers, Jordan Tisdale broke through the Poly backline and shifted the ball wide to the left-winger who was on hand to finish off in the corner. Despite the class exhibited by the uni backline, it was clear that Poly’s defence had let themselves down.
Newcastle was playing with high levels of skill and assuredness. They were composed in defence and incredibly incisive with the ball in hand. The Newcastle pack were a sensation; their mobility and dynamism at ruck time was only surpassed by their commanding presence at set piece. The tight five were especially impressive; Piers Goodwill made mincemeat of his opposing prop at every possible opportunity, relishing every scrum and every lineout.
Unfortunately, Uni’s momentum was somewhat thwarted by the untimely injury to fullback George Adams. In the process of yet another assault on the Poly try line; Adams seemed to fall awkwardly on his ankle, causing him to be stretchered off. This break in the game allowed the Poly to regroup; despite the points deficit being increased to eight points, after a converted penalty from fly half Ollie Wear, they seemed galvanized and began to exert pressure on the Newcastle defensive line.
With renewed endeavour, Northumbria started to make inroads into the Newcastle 22, causing mistakes from the leaders. Not too long after a successful penalty kick from the Poly fly half, it was their chance to register a try with a customary narrow forward move. With the scores now level at eight-all, the game dynamic had shifted, promising for a tantalizing second period. As half time approached, Newcastle made another attack on the Poly half, forcing a penalty that Wear converted with consummate ease to put his team on the front foot at the break.
Despite the late surge by Poly, Newcastle seemed the more dominant of the two sides at the break; they were robust at set piece and looked by far the more penetrative in the loose. Meanwhile, Northumbria seemed lackluster in defence and lacking in inspiration in attack. Newcastle, therefore, was in a very strong position but, as so often is the case in close matches, the second half would be where the game would be decided.
From the first minute of the second half, the game seemed to open up dramatically. In a flash, both sides had scored points; scrum half Tom Banks, with a delightful solo effort from just inside the opposing half, and the Poly from a quick penalty from the Newcastle five meter. Poly seemed reinvigorated and keen to make their mark on the match, putting immediate pressure on the Newcastle defence from the get-go. After a quick tap from a penalty in the Newcastle 22, they took their chance and the lead, scoring under the posts.
Uni, however, were equally energized; after a successful penalty goal attempt, they sought to immediately regain possession off the kick-off. After a brilliant interception by blindside flanker James Phillips under the high ball, the Newcastle backs division initiated a string of quick and clinical phases that unlocked the Poly defence. With another precise finish from the left-winger, Newcastle led by twenty-six points to twenty entering into the final third.
The game was showing no signs of slowing down as both teams scored again, leaving a one-point gap between them. Newcastle simply had to hold on and victory would be theirs. In a nail-biting last ten minutes however, Poly had the last laugh; following a break into the Newcastle half, they forced a crucial penalty in front of the posts which ultimately caused their opponent’s demise. The game was lost, Northumbria again reigned supreme over Newcastle’s rugby kingdom.
Despite the result, Newcastle have a huge amount to be proud of. Their first half performance was very promising and the freedom with which they played throughout the game was exciting for coaches and onlookers alike. Lets hope that they finish the season with the same level of enthusiasm and build toward a Stan Calvert resurgence in 2016.