Houghton-Le-Spring 34 v Blaydon Spartans 22 by Nicholas Eatch SR-News November 5th 2021
A very windy day saw Blaydon go down despite a spirited fight back in the second half by twelve points.
Whether the walk to the far pitch sapped early strength from Blaydon was debatable, but certainly a string of early penalties – three in the first five minutes – and playing against the wind, saw the Spartans under massive early pressure.
This lack of discipline was compounded by a series of missed tackles that saw Houghton open the scoring. A fact not lost on Blaydon prop Chris Davison who reinforced the need for tackle bags in the warm up at the next fixture.
However, despite the opening run of play Blaydon bounced back when Davison smashed through two Houghton defenders and Joe Jenkins – who was arguably Blaydon’s man-of-the-match, as well as young colts Luke and Max with Luke going on marauding runs throughout the game as did Max. The two young guns would both be rewarded with tries.
Spartans captain James Murray, 26, slotted home the conversion from the Jenkins try. It was a great kick, with a deal of class in the boot against the wind, putting Blaydon into the lead 5 to 7.
This unfortunately for Blaydon’s fans would be the last time they would hold the lead.
After 17 minutes the opposition again broke through a weak Blaydon D, when one of their experienced players, cheered on by his windswept son and wife – who was holding onto her skirt for dear life from the sidelines, went over. Their MOM, playing at ten, duly slotted over to make it 12 to 7 to Houghton.
Shell-shocked from that defensive breech the opposition then quickly went over again, this time after five Blaydon missed tackles. The conversion saw then stretch their lead to 19 points to 7.
Blaydon were unfortunate not to reduce the deficit when young colt Luke playing 8 and in only his second senior game made a great run with some intuitive off-loading in contact. However, the oppositions ferocious tackling saw that attack filter out.
The scrums were well contested all day, with two heavily experienced front rows going head-to-head, and at times literally.
On 31 minutes after a great drive from Blaydon centre Peter, who was always looking to run forward as ever, saw Blaydon get into the oppositions 22. Then some great interchange play up the right saw young Max, go over for the first of his two tries.
“I was absolutely made up to score” he said after the game, face beaming with youthful enthusiasm.
With the wind now blowing into Blaydon’s faces, with gusts up to 60mph Murray’s conversion was almost impossible from the right touch line. 19 to 12 to Houghton.
With the gap now only seven points and with Blaydon playing with the wind behind them second half, things were looking up. Especially after Jenkins went on a powerful and jinking run up the right for 30m or more, but then got white line fever when an inside pass with good support from Blaydon’s back line, would have been a better option. This would be his only mistake though in a glittering display.
Then from the line out a penetrating kick by the Houghton ten, and a run and chase led to problems. Max was deemed to have taken the ball over his own try line resulting in a Houghton scrum five out. Houghton took full advantage going over in the corner. Missing the conversion but still increasing their lead to 24 to 12.
Almost from the kick off, poor Blaydon play at the breakdown – which was a major concern throughout the game – led to the ball being lost and Houghton went over again.
After the conversion was missed this meant that Blaydon trailed by 17 points at half time.
29 to 12 halftime
After an 18 month lay-off through injury, it was great to see the towering presence of Jimmy the Horse back in Blaydon red.
The experienced second rower summed up what was letting down Blaydon down at half-time. “We are getting isolated, then we are not securing the ball at the ruck and they are just coming through and taking it” he said. He was not wrong. This must have happened ten times at least during the 80.
Now Blaydon had the wind behind them and hopefully in their sails as the second half commenced.
Hold on! Wind?
The weather Gods were against the Spartans, as the wind power certainly dried-up in the second half.
What didn’t dry-up though was solid Houghton D and there was no score in the first ten minutes of the second half, this despite constant Blaydon pressure.
A beautiful intelligent cross field kick by Murray nearly paid off. Then Jenkins on the opposite side of the pitch on 54 minutes thought he had gone over, only for the touch judge to signal with a late flag that he had put a boot in touch.
Ashley Merrit was certainly fired up and was another Blaydon player who was incredibly strong with the ball.
The penalty count mounted against Houghton. Surely a yellow would be brandished soon as they continually were on the wrong side at the breakdown or deliberately slow to release in the tackle. Persistent fouling would see their lanky second rower later sin-binned.
Then on 62 minutes, Merritt smashed through four Houghton players and over their line, only to drop the ball at the key moment one handed from two feet. No try.
In those two moments, there were 14 potential points, with Jenkins errant boot and Merritt’s errant grip, which would have dramatically closed the gap.
Houghton couldn’t hold out forever in a scene akin to Zulu Dawn at Rourkes Drift, Blaydon’s talented young number eight – who looks some player, got a deserved try, smashing through the Houghton defence. Murray missed the conversion. but Blaydon edged closer at 29 to 17.
However, yet again the loss of the ball on the floor at the ruck was Blaydon’s downfall. Tempers started to flare and Jimmy the horse was to see yellow, although to many onlookers, this seemed rather harsh.
Houghton also had a player binned for consistently being off side at the breakdown; seemingly thinking the gate was a five bar gate; not a garden gate!
From Jimmy’s dismissal the Blaydon forward line was weakened and Houghton went over to go 34 to 17 in front.
Blaydon were not to be denied a second half victory though. Brilliant handling and quick interchange between Max, Murray and back to Max, with great quick handing, saw the young colt bag his second try of the game.
Murray was magnanimous in defeat and thanked his troops for a spirited display.
A very good game in very demanding meteorological conditions saw Houghton win by 12 in the end. 34 points to 22.
With a little more composure near the try line, better security at the breakdown, attacking in pods rather than solo runs and better, lower tackling, this surely would have been a Blaydon W.
It certainly bodes well for their next fixture though. A few tweaks and we should see the Spartan score count…rocket.
The Blaydon faithful hope they don’t have to wait until the next celebration of Guy Fawkes failed attempt to blow up the central pillars of British government, before they see those tweaks. Blaydon Fireworks are then surely coming to a rugby pitch near you soon no doubt.
- Chris Davidson
- Kieran Duffy
- Ashley Merritt
- Jim Houghton
- Cameron Neil
- Michael Wharton
- Peter Andrew
- Luke Tonks
- Liam Stamper
- James Murray (C)
- Paul Dingley
- Kieran Sheen
- Joseph Jenkins
- Matt Robertson
- Max Robinson
- Kevin Lamb