THERE was no repeat of Whitley Bay Rockcliff’s 35-0 demolition job of Winlaton two weeks ago as the return was a tense, pulsating match with a lot riding on it.
A win for Winlaton would make their forthcoming match with Yarm a relegation decider; a win for Rockcliff would mean safety and a guarantee of second division rugby next season.
Rockcliff included new player Dan Atkinson in the front row, and he propped alongside the experience of Neil Mather and Drew Hayton.
Winlaton, playing up the hill, started full of intent and aggression, dominating the rucks, mauls, scrums and lineouts, with their forwards overpowering the Red and Golds.
In possession terms the match should have been over at half-time with Winlaton leading, however, they mustered only one unconverted try and the score was 5-3 after Andrew Webster had coolly slotted home a penalty for Rockcliff late in the half.
Suitably geed up after coach Tommy Rendles’ half-time talk and some inspirational words from skipper Drew Hayton, Rockcliff started to dominate.
By this stage Atkinson had got over his initial nerves, his body position got lower and the Rockcliff scrum steadier, resulting in forward momentum as the Red and Gold’s started to get to grips with the match.
Winlaton, however, managed to extend their lead with a second try and a penalty, and at 13-3 a Rockcliff fight back started.
On 57 minutes, after an excellent driving maul by the Rockcliff pack, the ball was spun out by scrum-half Dan Simpson to outside-half Josh Donnelly, who released the backs and the ball passed through the hands of centres Ricki Hasnip and Bryan Stewart to winger Richie Berne who went over in the corner.
The Red and Golds now took the game by the scruff of the neck and the forwards powered on, and after much pressure on the Winlaton line, No. 8 Liam Bowman powered over for a try to level the scores with only three minutes of the game left.
Webster was unlucky with his conversion attempt.
A disappointed Winlaton left the pitch hoping the Yarm result had gone their way, which it did, so they live to fight another day.
Rockcliff can now look forward to building on this base and winning their final games to continue this current run of form which has seen them lose only once since the end of January.
They will face a stern test of their progress this weekend when they face league leaders Acklam at home at Hillheads.
Man of the match was Richie Berne and special mention is owed to youngsters Dan Atkinson and Stephen Pentland, the future front row forwards of the club, who impressed.
If Rockcliff can keep this present squad of youngsters together the future is looking good.