Murky conditions fail to hide the lack of quality

THE news that Darlington are to stage an England v Scotland Under 18 match was accompanied by the team's first win of the season.

The international is on March 3, by which time both these teams will be as good as relegated from North One East. The Clash of the Titans this was not.

Proceedings were shrouded in a chilling murk, but the fog wasn't quite thick enough to hide the many errors and infringements.

The relief for Darlington was palpable. After 11 straight defeats, had they not won this one it would have been difficult to imagine them winning at all.

At least they had the spirit to nail down the victory after they looked like tossing it away, having switched off in allowing a 15-3 lead to become an 18-15 deficit.

Suddenly there was some purpose in their play and the excellent build-up to the winning try begged the question: why couldn't they do it more often?

Both clubs have suffered from being unable to field anything like a settled side. City's former Blaydon centre Paddy Dias was on duty with the Durham School team and the previous week's best player, full back Rob Smith, was also unavailable.

They could hardly have failed to note how porous the Darlington defence has been, yet did not run the ball at every opportunity. That hinted at a lack of confidence and skill and when they did create a clear overlap as they began their fightback it was wasted through poor handling.

Up front they had the experience of skipper Peter Dent and Jeff Roberts to rally them, but it always seemed that the stronger home pack ought to prevail.

After City made a mess of dealing with the kick-off it took Darlington only a minute to score a catch-and-drive try through flanker Jon Guy.

They then conceded a succession of penalties and after kicking one to the corner to no avail City went for goal and Arnie Stevenson made it 5-3.

Darlington's second try also came through the forwards as they won a scrum in the right corner and recycled it across the field before an inside pass sent prop Joe Oselton under the posts.

Skipper Mark Baldwin, having to play at ten rather than nine, converted and added a simple penalty following a promising attack in which centre Dan Carter was injured.

Having forged ahead, Darlington allowed City back into the game and in the ten minutes either side of half-time they drew level.

Hooker Dave Farrer burrowed over by the posts for Stevenson to convert, then a simple move on the short side of a scrum sent replacement winger Richard North over.

The momentum was now with City and a powerful break by centre Harry Hodell created the opportunity for Stevenson to put them ahead with a penalty.

Darlington's response was impressive.

They finally gave full back Connor Esler some space to race to the 22, then Richard Snowball drove on before centre Henry Carver took a pass on the burst to go under the posts.

Something similar almost resulted in a try for winger Matthew Sowerby, who got over the line but lost the ball in the tackle.

The Darlington forwards ensured that they hung on to move back into positive territory after starting the match on minus three points.

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