Newcastle clinched the Clash of the Titans crown in dramatic fashion for the second year running, after a last minute try snatched the title away from Northumbria. The win also counts towards Newcastle’s Stan Calvert total this year, pulling them level with Northumbria after losing the cricket in June.
Though the two sides didn’t meet in Stan Calvert last year, Northumbria were out for revenge after losing both matches in the league last year. With Northumbria having been selected over Newcastle to compete in the new BUCS Super Rugby league, this looks to be the only meeting between the two rivals this academic year, so victory would be that little bit sweeter.
Though unconfirmed reports claimed that Northumbria had sold all of their tickets, it was Newcastle that filled up their seats quicker. The louder Newcastle crowd seemed to spur their team on in the earlier minutes as they received the kick and pressed forwards.
After two scrums that Newcastle seemed to overpower, Northumbria’s Rob Haldane broke clear. Though the number 10 ran into traffic, referee Hamish Smailes brought the play back for a penalty to Northumbria. Despite being in a relatively central position, Haldane couldn’t squeeze the ball between the posts.
Newcastle were again on the back-foot from the restart as Joe Luca Smith’s kick didn’t make much distance downfield. After the lineout, a George Wacokecoke dummy disorganised Newcastle, leading to yet another penalty. Haldane made no mistake this time, dispatching the kick with confidence.
Smith’s kick was better from the restart and sent Newcastle into Northumbria territory. In the second of the two resulting scrums, Northumbria’s front row collapsed, awarding Newcastle an opportunity to level with the penalty.
The subsequent scrapping between the Newcastle and Northumbria players may have distracted Newcastle captain Joe Luca Smith, since his penalty went wayward, leaving the score at 3-0 to Northumbria.
By the end of the half, it was damage limitation for Newcastle
In the passage following the restart, Newcastle took the initiative. Breaks from Sam Matanle and Alex Nissim showed promise but were defended well by the black-clad Northumbria players, with the ball being kicked into touch away from danger.
As the teams were buoyed on by the increasing number of fans, the pace got noticeably quicker. Turnovers from both sides eventually led to a Northumbria penalty that was kicked into the corner. Newcastle once again stole possession, but a well-organised Northumbria line kept their opponents at bay.
A neat exchange by Matanle and Harry Glover allowed Joel Macfarlane to run clear. However, Newcastle’s no.14 was hit hard and knocked the ball on. From the subsequent scrum, Northumbria won a penalty that Haldane clinically converted to double his team’s lead. By the end of the half, it was damage limitation for Newcastle. With the wind against them it was a noticeably difficult task to get the ball downfield.
At the half-time break there was positivity in the Newcastle camp. Though there was no sign of Percy the Lion coach Scott Powell was pleased with the performance against the wind, especially defensively. Likewise, Andy Kennedy said that “6-0 down at half time into the wind is a good result for us,” whilst singling out Finn Walsh, Alex Watts and Matanle for their impressive performances during the first 40 minutes.
Newcastle’s fans gave a hostile reception to Team Northumbria as they took to the field, and it seemed to shake their confidence. Two questionable kicks from Northumbria’s Nat Lunt and Ruairi Howarth allowed Newcastle to pile on the pressure.
A scrum led to a Newcastle penalty that Smith kicked towards the corner. From the lineout Alex Todd retrieved the ball and charged into the opposition’s half at the rear of a maul. After two scrums, Newcastle won a penalty and once again kicked into the corner.
Another Newcastle maul from the lineout bulldozed down the Northumbria defence and this time Alex Todd was able to get the ball over the line. An impressive conversion from Joe Luca Smith put Newcastle 7-6 in the lead with half an hour left on the clock.
Northumbria reacted strongly, with Aedan Moloney bursting clear, but Ben Sinclair ensured that the attack was stalled. In the ensuing scramble Northumbria won another penalty. Again Newcastle were let off the hook as Haldane hit a routine-looking kick wide.
With that scare in mind, Newcastle looked to increase their advantage. Smith again kicked Newcastle into a good area, with Jordan Tisdale breaking through the Northumbria line. The no.12 passed onto substitute Will Scholey who then released to Macfarlane who hit the deck. Ewan MacGarvie picked up the ball and ran for the line. Despite looking like he was going to be stopped, the winger defiantly forced his way through to score Newcastle’s second try of the game.
After another classy kick from Smith, Northumbria showed immense character to bounce back. Having caught the ball from a somewhat lucky bounce, Moloney sprinted away from the Newcastle defence to score his team’s first try of the tie. Haldane converted to put Northumbria back in contention, being only one-point shy of Newcastle.
In the final fifteen minutes the game opened up. Within twenty seconds of having the ball within 10ft off their try line, Northumbria were in the corner inches from a try. Two minutes later the try came, but Howarth missed the conversion.
From the restart, Newcastle struggled to regain control. Northumbria’s no.22 Dave Elliot broke free, but was brilliantly tackled by MacGarvie. Ed Bloodworth was then flattened by the Newcastle defence, giving Northumbria then chance to extend their lead with the penalty. Instead they went for touch and found no luck in the subsequent play due to a fantastic challenge from Tisdale.
A late Newcastle penalty gave the team a lifeline, but Northumbria turned over possession and seemed in control. A wayward pass gifted Newcastle a lineout that would lead to the decisive moment in the match.
Rapturous and animated celebrations followed amongst both fans and players
One ruck after another ran the time down as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark. Mike Scott pressed forward after Tisdale hit the deck, then Piers Goodwill looked to have conclusively got the ball over the line.
However, Smailes took his time over the decision, and, after a long discussion with his assistant, awarded the try. Rapturous and animated celebrations followed amongst both fans and players as the score read 19-18 to Newcastle with no time left.
Afterwards captain Joe Luca Smith couldn’t stop saying how “unbelievable” the win was and how much it meant to the team. Moreover, he stressed the togetherness of the team and how that was going to be pivotal in the season to come.
Though head coach Matt Fieldhouse stressed the significance of the match as a preparation for the team’s first league fixture against Durham, coach Jim Pollock maintained that it was “fantastic that they won” such an important fixture.
Joe Luca Smith praised Newcastle for being able to rise to the big occasion, and now that bragging rights will be held over Northumbria until next year, it’s just as well they did.