ROCKCLIFF got 2012 off to a good start with a narrow victory at Hartlepool as two young teams slugged it out before a number of impact substitutions changed the game.
Coach Tommy Rendles fielded a young pack with Dan Atkinson starting in the front row, Dan Timney partnering Paul Hardcastle in the second row and the versatile Josh Donnelly moving from centre to start at number six.
Karl Briggs was at scrum-half and skipper Andrew Webster moved back to his normal position of playmaker at ten.
The red and golds also welcomed Bryan Stewart back into the centre after a spell out with injury and Ross Skene returned to the wing.
Playing downhill with the wind behind them, Rockcliff started impressively creating numerous chances, but in the swirling wind kicking was difficult and the visitors missed a number of penalties.
So it was with some relief when after a period of pressure Rockcliff created space for flying winger Steven Scott to crash over in the corner for an unconverted try after 21 minutes.
Webster was on target seven minutes later, slotting home a penalty for 8-0.
Hartlepool came back and with the rejigged visitors pack finding it difficult to get possession, scrum-half Briggs did a fantastic job getting ball to his backs considering the scrum was going backwards continually throughout the half.
With number eight Paul Ellwood sent to the bin for an offence that the referee deemed dangerous but the crowd belived to be good rucking, Hartlepool applied pressure which increased as the second half continued.
Camped in the Rockcliff half they managed to run in two good tries, one converted, to put them 12-8 ahead.
It was then that coach Rendles made his impact substitutions, bringing on Jonny Birkett at eight, moving Ellwood into the second row, and Timney to the front row.
The result was immediate and the Rockcliff scrum became stable and started to move forwards.
With the pressure relieved the Rock backs started to use their pace and move back upfield, becoming a threat whenever they got the ball.
With only five minutes remaining and with pressure on the Pool line, great hands from the versatile Josh Donnelly enabled Ricki Hasnip to crash over in the corner to nudge the Red and Gold’s ahead at 12-13.
To their credit Hartlepool came back and only a missed last minute penalty that ensured the Rockcliff win.
Donnelly was impressive in the flanker role, tackling anything that moved, while Birkett shone at eight for the second half and has given coach Rendles selection problems for next week, as have Jack Lambert and Dale Harrison, who were excellent around the fringes.
On Saturday, Rockcliff are at home to a strong Seaton Carew side.
The Rock pack will have to function from the first minute, as this will not be a match for experimentation, and a good league position is still there for the taking.
Rockcliff Mini and Touch Rugby
ON the Sunday before Christmas, Rockcliff RFC’s under sevens section held a special training for the squad and their families. Santa had asked them to show him some drills for delivering presents and how to get his reindeer fit for the big delivery. Instead of real presents, rugby balls were used to good effect. From the human conveyor belt for moving the presents and a drill to sort the presents, everyone helped show Santa what he needed to do.
On Boxing Day some of the Touch Rugby section held their annual “Run off the Christmas Pudding” Touch Rugby games. They invited families from the club to come and join in the fun too. Four teams played three games each as well as one final big game. Since Touch Rugby is a game that all the family can play, the morning saw many families playing for the first time.
One of the players commented: “What a great way to spend Boxing Day with the family”, they continued: “This is the first time all of the family have played Touch, we will be back as the atmosphere is so friendly and the game is easy to pick up.”
In the afternoon, many of the families went to watch Rockcliff play Percy Park in the annual Boxing Day Derby.
Rockcliff’s Mini Section meet at the clubs ground on Lovainne Avenue on Sundays at 10.30am and the Touch Rugby Section meet at 6.30pm every Thursday to which everyone is welcome.