Darlington Mowden Park 26 Hartpury College 34

MOWDEN continued to raise hopes that they can compete near the top of National One next season when they came very close to matching the unbeaten champions on Saturday.

After what must have been as big a fright as they have had all season, Hartpury needed a penalty in added time to make the game safe.

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The 844 fans got behind Mowden and they gave as good as they got in a cracking first half at the Northern Echo Arena. The second period was a little more attritional but it did feature a blistering try from Adam Radwan.

Receiving the ball on the short side from a scrum just inside Mowden's half, the fleet-footed winger stepped inside his marker then outpaced the cover for his second try.

At 21-19 down five minutes after half-time, Mowden had their visitors rattled. But there were enough experienced campaigners in what purports to be a team of college boys to batten down the hatches and maul their way home.

Twice Mowden had men sin-binned for illegally halting mauls just short of the line, and both times Hartpury scored shortly afterwards.

That put them 31-19 ahead, and seemingly on the way to a comfortable win. But Mowden kept on coming and a bonus point for their fourth try was the least they deserved.

The sponsors decided the Mowden man of the match award should go to the whole team, which was a popular decision.

While Radwan provided the glitter, there was some notable graft from players like prop Ralph Appleby, who looks comfortable at this level now he is getting a regular start.

In fact, the solid scrummaging, instead of endless re-sets, was a pleasing feature of the game.

Hartpury took an early lead when they ran back a 22 drop-out and fly half Matthew Protheroe showed his class on a 30-metre run to the posts.

After a strong run by winger Shaun McCartney, Mowden kept the pressure on until they moved the ball right from a scrum and full back Jamie Barnard squeezed over.

Garry Law converted from wide on the right and two minutes later Mowden went ahead. Centre Ben Frankland intercepted on his own 22 and made 40 metres before wisely opting to utilise the greater pace of Radwan.

The winger took the pass and with two covering defenders bearing down he simply found another gear.

Law's conversion made it 14-7, but Hartpury levelled the scores again shortly after Simon Uzokwe was sin-binned for what the referee deemed illegal interference at a ruck.

Just as Uzokwe returned the visitors kicked a penalty to touch and drove over, the conversion giving them a 21-14 lead, which they were fortunate to retain at the break as Chris Auld lost control of the ball as he was about to touch down.

After Radwan galloped over for his second, his fellow Teessider Ollie Hodgson went on for the last 25 minutes to end his five-month injury absence. But his arrival coincided with No 8 Matt Heaton being yellow-carded and nine minutes later Appleby suffered the same fate.

The two tries which resulted proved decisive, although Mowden came back with good handling, which ended with Law going under the posts.

They pressed again, but lost a crucial line-out on their own throw and were denied a second bonus point when Hartpury kicked their late penalty.