Rockcliff RFC travelled to Blyth on a blustery but dry day which saw the clubs play two pre-season friendlies on one pitch.
Over 40 players made the trip and Rockcliff showed the strength in depth they have developed by selecting separate 1st XV and Viking squads to play 50-minute games against their green and black counterparts.
The firsts started the day off and gave a good account of themselves, leading 3-0 after the first half.
Strong defensive play from Rob Hamilton alongside the tackling masterclass of club captain Andrew Webster and Jonny Earnshaw in midfield kept Blyth from the try line.
Despite the pressure Blyth exerted early on Rockcliff were able to turnover the ball, clear their lines through Simon Ayre and begin to show what their attack is capable of.
There was flair with the ball in hand through Stephen McPherson and Andrew Telford out wide and big carrying up front from Josh Donnelly and Drew Taylor - the old show and go through the gap followed by a cheeky out the back door offload.
This gave the red and gold men field position and Webster duly converted when Blyth were caught offside.
Tom Reid impressed in the lineout with his gargantuan reach of over 18ft, and Mathew Bradley consolidated on his player of the season performances last year, continuing to impress in both the scrum and open play, even a cheeky carry or two coming into his game after hard work in training.
After the first half, Rockcliff made numerous changes to the side with Niall Stokes, Drew Hayton, Charlie Murray, Matthew Dunbar, Sean Wood, Dan Simpson and Liam Bowman all brought onto the pitch.
Bowman gave a sterling account of himself in the front row and Dunbar did a fine job coming in on the wing and covering out of position due to a niggle for Webster and some absences in the side.
The biggest impact, however, came from Stokes, who in ten minutes turned over the ball twice and began carrying well.
Wood lived up to the clubs expectations whilst Hayton showed why he is still highly regarded as a scrum technician.
Simpson showed some glimpses of the player that left Rockcliff last season with an interesting out the back door offload on his own try line followed by a superb box kick into space in the opposition half which was nearly taken by Telford on the wing.
Despite the strong performance, twice in the second half Rockcliff switched off defensively, giving Blyth a quick tap at a penalty to score and not recognising a turnover at the breakdown giving the opposition a huge gap and their other try.
However, these two slips apart the teams were evenly matched and both looked strong throughout with a low missed tackle count and players carrying the ball with intensity.
In the Vikings fixture, which was played directly after the 1st XV game due to Blyth having one pitch available at short notice, it was also a tightly contested affair.
Both teams started completely different XVs and the game began as it would continue with strong carries and hard hits.
Harry Ramage was in superb form and as always offered himself willingly to carry the ball with Matty Ward Howell on his shoulder and first man into the ruck.
Veteran hooker Neil Mather belied his age, working well with Dan Atkinson and Michael Donaldson.
The whole pack, led by Steve Vert in imperious form, showed a fantastic attitude around the highly contested breakdown and had to be strong to secure the ball for David Neasham and Chris Foster to attack.
Dan Tmney in particular, coming back after a long lay-off with injury, stood out as he covered more ground than a dog chasing a cat.
Again the Rockcliff side made a large amount of changes in the second half to bring in players who have been training and ensure everyone got a good run out.
Tom Collinson, Chris Nixon, Steve Liddle, Connor Sutherland and Niall Stokes (having been cleared after a fitness check by the physio and returning to field in the unconventional role of 12) all entered the fray and the Rockcliff side didn’t miss a step continuing to play some superb rugby with strike runners and a good set around the defence.
Stokes’s chip chase apart it was a strong second half performance by the men from Hillheads.
Team manager and captain Gary Lewis was in a jubilant mood with his men after the final whistle and understandably so.
With tries for new players Callum Heads, Steven McPherson (who has shown his commitment to the club by changing careers to play this year) and Steve Vert alongside even more debuts for the Vikings, the team looks in a strong position this season.
Head coach Jack Lambert said: “Firstly I would like to thank Blyth for playing the games against us today after we were let down last minute.
“They have given both our teams a real test and helped us prepare for the start of the season, good luck to them for the year ahead.
“Today wasn’t about the result for myself and the other coaches, instead it was about looking at partnerships and seeing how the players adapted to some of the new work we have been doing with them this year.
“On both those counts I am very happy with the performance out there.
“We were competitive and played to the structure that the lads have been working on for over a month now, doing so against a strong team from the league above.
“New lads that have joined the club this year began to develop partnerships and understanding with the players already established at Rockcliff, and those on field relationships take time to build.
“Today’s performance was a marker of what we are capable of and showed a lot of potential.
“A newly formed back line threatened across the field and the pack took to the new line out structure very well.
“We will still be looking to do a lot of work on the scrum and lineout for the first competitive game of the season, but today we faced a team known for their set piece dominance and we stood toe to toe with them.
“I am genuinely excited to see what these players are capable of doing this year and working with them every week is a real pleasure.
“If they keep up their determination to succeed and hard work in training then they will be a very tough side to play.”
Vikings manager Gary Lewis said: “Today we have put out two squads of 20 players for a pre-season friendly in August with another 19 lads who have been training unavailable through work, family commitments before the season starts, holidays or injury.
“That is a real achievement for a club our size and shows that all the hard work being put in by the coaching staff, senior players and committee is really paying off.
“New players across the two teams have been part of a Rockcliff RFC game day atmosphere and enjoyed every minute.
“First XV players were water boys for the Vikings and vice versa and the club spirit between players, whatever team they play for, shows just how strong a position the club is in this year.
“The Vikings played the same structure as the 1st XV today just as we will all season and it has shown just how effective that is.
“We have players that are looking to develop and challenge lads for positions across the entire club and they are doing that whilst playing some exciting rugby.”
Next week the club travel to Berwick on a bus trip.
There are 52 places available. To book a place contact Jack Lambert on 07885 365202.
All club members are welcome over the age of 18.