Rockcliff no match for a high flying Blyth XV

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IT was a cold and windy Hillheads where Rockcliff welcomed high flying Blyth on Saturday.

Late call-offs meant home coach Thomas Rendles and manager Gavin Donnelly had to ring the changes to the Rockcliff pack.

Duncan Jordan came in at tight head and youngsters Billy Ellwood and Dan Atkinson as cover on the bench.

The fit again Stu Thomson was also keeping the bench warm in his first match for a number of weeks.

The versatile Josh Donnelly was again in the fly-half position, with skipper Andrew Webster at number nine and Bryan Stewart returning to partner Ricki Hasnip in the centre.

Rockcliff kicked off with the wind in their favour, but it was soon apparent why Blyth are second in the league as they started well and maintained that level of intensity throughout the match.

A strong set of forwards had the Rock scrum wheeling from the very beginning, applying huge pressure on the Rock pack, leaving skipper and acting scrum-half Andrew Webster with problems at the base of the scrum and forcing him to use his quick thinking brain to avoid the rampaging Blyth forwards.

It was no surprise when pressure on the Rock pack resulted in a loose ball which was picked up by Blyth winger Chris Grey who went over for the converted try.

This was followed by another by the outstanding Blyth number ten Andy Sutherland, the first of a hat-trick for him.

Webster slotted home a penalty, and towards the end of the first half a spirited Rock performance saw winger Steven Scott go over for a try after some good back work from all the backs but in particular Bryan Stewart.

This was possibly the only time in the game that the Rockcliff backs had the ball and such is their confidence this season they created a score, but also says volumes about the Blyth performance.

The old sages agreed that this was the best team Rock have encountered this season, and the home club wish them well for the rest of the season which looks like it will result in promotion.

Rockcliff were beaten by the better team on the day.

The next fixture at Hillheads is Redcar, on December 17.

BLYTH RFC 3rds 7 WB ROCKCLIFF 3rds 14

ROCKCLIFF Rangers took on the might and experience of Blyth Vets in a freezing gale, and despite playing with the wind, spent most of the first half defending.

Outstanding in this capacity were Jamie Shardlow, making big hits all around the park from an unaccustomed role at lock, and Russ Hill, who snapped up everybody straying onto his wing.

Late on in the first half Rhys Johnstone, part of the Rangers youth policy, cleverly judged the wind to chip and chase before releasing little Stevie Mason charging in from 30 yards. The try was converted by Rhys Johnstone.

There was no respite in the second half with not only the opposition but also the increasing wind penning Rockcliff into their 22.

The young set of backs showed great maturity in resisting the urge to kick but instead use their pace to run the ball out of defence.

Most deserving of praise were Andrew Telford, with three different significant ball-carries on the left wing, and Donald Gilchrist, who was an unstoppable whirlwind in midfield.

Wave after wave of attack crashed on the rocky Whitley Bay shore until Matty Dunbar, from deep inside his own 22, lanced through the centre of the defence, making 40 yards and taking out the whole of the Blyth team.

As his legs faltered Chris Keen collected the pop-pass and, with great pace, raced all the way to the line from just inside his own half.

Once again Johnstone added the extras.

Blyth came back strongly and stole a score from a series of scrums and penalties, some of which seemed to be given on the “be kind to pensioners” ticket.

However, in the final minutes Rockcliff pack showed great tactical nouce to draw out every set-piece and run down the time for a hard fought and well-deserved victory.

Man of the match was Jamie Shardlow.