Rockcliff battle back put fall just short

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ROCKLIFF RFC ran out of time as they staged a fight back against Barnard Castle.

Rock welcomed back Dan Atkinson, Stu Thompson, Tony and Jonny Birkett to the pack, and gave a fist team debut to Jack Lambert.

Sam Heppell replaced the unavailable Daniel Simpson, Karl Briggs stepped into the centre and Ross Skene came in on the wing with Merwyn Watson at full-back.

The bench included Dan Johnstone, Geoff Bowman, and Chris Forster.

Barnard Castle started strongly but were unable to make ground due to great defensive work from the Rock pack, and from a breakdown in the Rock half the ball was sent out to Skene and the Edinburgh flyer stepped two players to score in the corner.

Pace is what the Red and Golds have missed recently, so it was good to see Skene back to his swift best.

Barnard Castle forced the visitors back and they replied with a penalty soon after the Rock try, and then two tries of their own to leave the half-time score at 15-5.

Coach Tommy Rendles was somewhat surprised at the interval score as it looked like the home side with the amount of possession would have been a cricket score away, so his inspirational half-time talk lifted the Red and Golds to hit the second half strongly.

Drew Hayton produced a barnstorming run slicing through the Castle defence to power over for a captain’s try, which was duly converted by Josh Donnelly.

This rattled the home side, who were now making mistakes and resorting to negative tactics to wind up the opposition, this resulted in the binning of their full-back who under the referee’s nose had afters on Donnelly.

A yellow for what could have been a red.

And to make matters worse an intercepted pass in the Barnard Castle 22 was taken down field for a try.

Another soon followed after a missed tackle.

So after all the good work the Rock team found themselves 29-12 in arrears.

This is a spirited Rock team though and they came flooding back with an excellent try from Ricki Hasnip.

Sensible substitutions were made by both coaches and Briggs was moved to scrum-half, Forster came on at fly-half, Donnelly moved to inside centre, Johnstone on the wing, and Bowman in the front row.

As a result, Donnelly made several breaks gaining good ground in the centre, and the team again started to push Barnard Castle back.

Again there were incidents off the ball and the referee gave ten minutes to a home forward for stamping on Drew Hayton when he should have seen red.

From the resulting passage of play Donnelly powered over for a fourth try, and two bonus points.

The game ended with Rockcliff finishing the stronger and had the game gone on for another five minutes there is no doubt they would have won.

Good performances all round from Jonny Birkett and Tony Birkett, Donnelly, Hayton, Hasnip, and Skene.

Heppell behind the scrum was solid and Lambert was impressive on his debut.

Saturday is the final game of the season at home against Bishop Auckland, and Rockcliff hope to finish off the season impressively with a strong home performance.