A YEAR after moving to The Northern Echo Arena, Mowden Park are growing used to moving in high circles.
They are hoping to attract the All Blacks to Darlington ahead of next year’s World Cup as the New Zealanders are scheduled to play a game at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park and could use the Arena as a base.
First comes the England Counties XV v Irish Clubs match next Friday evening, when it is hoped Mowden skipper Cameron Mitchell and lock Pierce Phillips will again be involved.
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There is no game scheduled for the following day, giving Mowden a break between two tough games, away to Sheffield Tigers tomorrow and at home to Sedgley Park on March 1.
Two former Mowden players now with Blaydon, prop Robbie Kalbraier and lock Chris Wearmouth, are also likely to play for the Counties XV and club officials are working hard to attract a big crowd.
Mowden’s own youngsters found themselves rubbing shoulders with a young member of the Cornish gentry on Saturday as 26-year-old Veryan Boscawen refereed their home match against Preston Grasshoppers.
He did not enamour himself to the 600 fans, but things turned out well in the end as Mowden gained the crucial four-try bonus point with five minutes left, winning 24-11 to move three points clear at the top of National Two North.
Mowden were in total control at 17-3 five minutes before half-time, yet were suddenly penalised five times in quick succession and received two yellow cards.
Hooker Ross Doneghan and No 8 Guy Van Den Dries both looked bemused when they were sin-binned for infringements at the breakdown.
The resulting penalties were both kickable, but the second was missed to leave the score at 17-6 at half-time. Sensing their chance, the Grasshoppers began the second half full of purpose, but the 13 men held out comfortably enough, only to find they could not regain the initiative when back up to full strength, largely because of persistent stoppages.
There was cause for concern when a catch-and-drive try made it 17-11 with 15 minutes left, but Mowden replied with a similar effort, touched down by replacement scrum half Zylon McGaffin.
The livewire South African was making his first appearance of the season and will add to the selection headaches during the final nine matches.
Another dilemma will arise when full back Henry Robinson returns shortly, which will allow Chris McTurk to revert to the wing. Shaun McCartney had to make way in early season but can hardly be left out now after scoring seven tries in the last four games and winning the Man of the Match award on Saturday.
Conditions were again not conducive to the fast, flowing game to which the young side are suited. But the maturing forwards dominated their visitors in the first half hour.
The loss of first-choice open side Jack Allcock to his second injury of the season proved disruptive, especially as it was swiftly followed by the two yellow cards.
Mowden scored two tries in the left corner in the first 15 minutes. Concerted pressure on the line ended with Van Den Dries charging over, Max Connon adding an excellent conversion.
Then a penalty to the corner produced a catch-anddrive try for Allcock after the visitors buckled in a scrum.
Preston kicked a penalty but when they were driven off their own scrum ball it was moved left and Cameron Mitchell passed inside for winger McCartney to burst through two tackles on his way to the corner.
The four-try bonus point looked likely to be secured before half-time but it was to be a further 45 minutes before it arrived.
Mowden finally mounted a foray to the visitors’ 22 and won a scrum against the head. McGaffin put in a sniping run then got the touchdown after a penalty was kicked to the corner and the maul was driven over.
Connon drilled a conversion under the wind and Mowden learned that nearest rivals Stourbridge had failed to gain the bonus point in a 14-0 win at home to Chester.
Darlington slipped further out of the promotion frame in Durham and Northumberland One when they lost 25-22 at Blyth.
They beat the same opponents 52-0 in October, but while remaining unbeaten at home they have now lost their last five away games.
Darlington are five points behind second-placed Blyth and might still challenge them for the promotion play-off spot. But as Yorkshire One is a much stronger division they could hardly expect to win the play-off, which would probably be at Dinnington or Ilkley.
An early penalty put Blyth ahead, and although Darlington responded with a good try through the backs they were made to pay for their mistakes.
A kick was charged down for Blyth’s first try, a dropped pass led to their second and missed tackles produced a third for the hosts to lead 20- 5.
Darlington hit back with a converted try just before halftime and two further tries put them 22-20 ahead. But the Blyth forwards raised their game and drove the visitors over the line for what proved the decisive try with 30 minutes left.
Darlington are at home tomorrow to Bishop Auckland, who remain rooted to the foot of the table after losing 46-10 at home to Bishop Auckland.
Northallerton won 22-0 away to Skipton, who are bottom of Yorkshire Three after being relegated last season.
North could only muster two replacements – 17-yearold Jedd Bainbridge and his father, 51-year-old Nic.
They welcomed back vicecaptain Frank Johns from his six-month break, which helped North to settle quickly.
The backs coped admirably with a very strong, blustery cross wind and Dougie Mulholland kicked well, although only one of the four tries was converted.
Top try scorer Greg Aspin linked well with Steve Lister before crossing in the corner midway through the first half.
Ten minutes later Aspin was sin-binned for playing the ball while offside.
The home side began to pressurise the North defence but flankers Tom Wood and Will Park were more than equal to the challenge.
Soon after Aspin’s return, Skipton had a man sin-binned and Aspin combined with Dan Luck and Lister to create another try, Lister touching down out wide for a 10-0 lead at the break.
Both teams started the second half full of gusto, especially Skipton, who were putting together some useful passing and looked like getting back into the game.
But North scrum half Patrick Hebblethwaite took a quick tap penalty and evaded two tacklers before racing 50 yards to score in the corner.
North then brought on both Bainbridges with 15 minutes left and Nic made an immediate impact in the scrums, providing a base for North to create more chances.
One fell to Jedd Bainbridge, who with the line beckoning, unselfishly off loaded to Danny Grainger to score in the corner. Bainbridge junior stepped up to land an excellent conversion.
Northallerton are at home to Harrogate Pythons tomorrow, while the seconds visit Darlington Mowden Park after having no game last week.
The thirds won 24-12 at home to Darlington, scoring tries through Sandy Grey, Charlie Wiggins, Adam Wright and Hugh Hamilton, who added two conversions in his last game before leaving the area. Flanker Ben England put in another useful display.
The thirds are at Hartlepool Rovers tomorrow.