PERCY Park RFC Under-13s were inspired by the presence of England fly-half Toby Flood as they booked their place in the County Cup final with a 31-22 win over Northern.
After all the bad weather of the past few weeks the conditions were near perfect for rugby at Preston Avenue.
And the news before the game that Flood was on the pitch practising his kicks fed back to the home side in the changing room and gave them an extra buzz before taking to the field.
Park went into this match on the back of a good run and had high hopes of beating Northern – County Cup winners for the past five years – for only the second time since they started playing each other seven years ago.
Park made the perfect start when the kick by Northern was collected by prop Kyle Spence and the ball was worked down the line to Conner Stewart who took off, leaving the Northern back line floundering in his wake as he touched down under the posts.
Two minutes gone and Park were five points up.
At the restart it was the same story, the ball was well taken again, and after a fumble from the Northern backs it was picked up by Conner, who took the ball down the wing, this time with Jordon Smith on his shoulder for support, then cut in to touch down under the posts for the second time in five minutes.
He converted his own try and Park had 12 points on the board and were thinking this could be their day.
Northern had other ideas and started to settle into their game, with a strong rucking display.
They came back strongly with fluent passing along the back line.
Tackles were going in thick and fast but it was not enough to stop Northern getting their first try out wide, which went unconverted.
Northern’s aggressive running was starting to gain them ground and they made several breaks before scoring their second and well worked try just to the side of the Park posts.
The conversion was good so the scores were even.
Some strong tackling from both teams, especially Park open-side flanker Ewan Pearson, saw a number of players leave the field of play and subs were brought on to allow them time to recover.
A good break by Park lead to scrum-half Dominic Foster jinking his way over in the corner for Park’s third try.
On the stroke of half-time a Northern lineout on the Park five-metre line was well defended, but the ball broke and Northern passed it along the line to score in the corner.
Once again they failed to convert what was a difficult kick out wide, so the teams went in at half-time all square 17-17 all.
Both teams shuffled things around at half-time and Northern came out trongly and surged forward.
There was some great defending from Park on their own line to repel Northern several times, but eventually the pressure told and Northern forced the ball over to take the lead for the first time in the match, though yet again they were unable to convert.
There was still a long way to go and Park came back strongly with good runs from several players, with the forwards working hard to secure the ball and carry it forward.
Northern again came back and a break down the wing was halted by a superb try-saving tackle by Ryan Darwent from full-back.
The backs had some good runs and stronger rucking from Park was securing the ball for the next phase of play.
Fast hands from fly-half Aidan McCallion and Luca Deriu sent Stewart into space in his own half and he broke away again to touch down under the posts, and he converted to put Park two points up with five minutes to go.
Northern pressed forward in a desperate bid to score, while Park were determined to hold out.
Then with two minutes left, and after some great work by the forwards, the ball was passed to Stewart again and he turned on the speed, went straight down the middle, beating two defensive Northern players with great foot work and pace and scored under the posts, much to the despair of the watching Northern players.
He made no mistake with the conversion,, taking the score to 31-22, which made the remaining two minutes a lot more comfortable for the Park spectators and coaches.
Despite a last minute drive from Northern, Park’s defence held firm.
An outstanding day’s rugby by all involved.
Percy Park now play Tynedale at Druids Park in the final on March 27.