Percy Park take the honours in annual Boxing Day game against Rockliff

Percy Park score a ntry against Rockcliff. Picture by Colin Edwards
Percy Park score a ntry against Rockcliff. Picture by Colin Edwards

The torrential rain which fell non-stop from lunchtime on Christmas Day put paid to any rugby at either Avenue Preston or Lovaine Avenue, with all pitches at the coast waterlogged.

A few frantic phone calls by chairman of rugby Thomas Turnbull to Newcastle Falcons were rewarded with the derby game taking place at Kingston Park on the 4G pitch.

Percy Park take on Rockcliff n their annual Boxing Day match. Picture by Colin Edwards

Percy Park take on Rockcliff n their annual Boxing Day match. Picture by Colin Edwards

Last minute messages by email and on social media meant that some 300 supporters descended on the East Stand and they were treated to a decent game of rugby with nothing in it at half-time.

Rock kicked off and immediately put Park under pressure, the only time in the first three minutes that Percy Park ventured into the Whitley Bay half was when Paul Spowart swooped on a misplaced pass and set off for the try line some 70 metres away. The Park fly-half had the legs to make it for the opening try against the run of play, but his conversion was off target.

Rockcliff continued their assault on the Park defence and crossed the line for a converted try to take the lead.

A spell of petulance by a couple of Park senior players meant Rock added to their score with a Simon Ayre penalty.

Rockcliff evading a Percy Park tackle in the run up to a try. Picture by Colin Edwards

Rockcliff evading a Percy Park tackle in the run up to a try. Picture by Colin Edwards

Not content with giving away one penalty for back chat, more followed as referee Jon Ash reversed a Park penalty which gave Ayre another shot at goal which fortunately for the black and white contingent went wide.

Former Rockcliff player Ricki Hasnip scored against his old side as he broke through the Whitley Bay midfield to score under the posts. Spowart converted to give Park a 12-10 lead.

When Percy Park were awarded a penalty in the Rockcliff half, they chose to kick to the corner and Harry Watson went over from a catch and drive to extend the lead to 17-10.

Dissent towards the referee need not just be verbal, a shake of the head and a quizzical look will also do the trick, and once again players who should know better gifted Ayre another penalty which he duly kicked.

And just before the half ended, further indiscipline cost Park dear as former player Ayre brought his side to within one point at the break.

Both sides went into the comfort of the changing rooms, as Park were handed out some hair dryer treatment for their first half display.

Rockcliff had played well in the first period and belied the difference in league positions as Park started the game with most of the available first XV players.

In the second period both sides made several changes with Park giving debuts to Academy players Kieran Wrightson, Joe Oldham and Dan Gallon.

Park stretched their lead in the second half as Ethan Wilson finished off another catch and drive before fly-half Spowart scored his second try of the game to take the score on to 27-16.

Park’s lineout was solid with prop Dan Ward throwing in after hooker Mal Donald had to leave the field with a back injury.

With regular hookers Andy Dunn and Jonny Dubois both out injured and unable to start in the game, the front row was reshuffled and Rock gained the upper hand in the tight. Unfortunately they could not make the pressure count as their big lads began to run out of steam on the fast surface.

Park brought on the experienced Thomas Turnbull at fly-half and he took control of the game, playing for position and territory and running the ball wider to which Rockcliff had more problems defending.

Rockcliff never gave up but could not break the solid Percy Park defensive line.

Park went further ahead with tries from Richy Berne and Steve Leneham, before Hasnip scored his second after good advantage was played by the referee.

The try of the game came from the restart following Hasnip’s second try, which emphasised Park’s superior fitness. Ward took the ball from the kick and charged into the Rock defence, the prop making several yards before off-loading to Eddie Saint on his first XV debut. The big lock made 20 yards before being slowed down and popped the ball back to Ward who was still in support, a final pass to fellow prop George Purdy saw the veteran run in from the 22 to score in the corner.

Rockcliff made one final effort to score just before the end, but the final whistle came before they could add to their tally, and Percy Park won 47-16.

Park performed better in the second period and Rock gave their all.

Many traditional Boxing Day games have gone by the wayside, but thanks to both sets of players and Newcastle Falcons, this annual fixture continued, and long may it do so.