ROCKCLIFF maintained their good form in 2012, winning a game of two halves at Winlaton where for once the weather held after an initial downpour had soaked everyone on the pitch.
Rockcliff made a number of changes to their team, fit again Stu Thomson coming in at lock, Lewis Partis on the wing, Duncan Jordan, Paul Ellwood and Jack Lambert were the substitutes, and Jonny Birkett returned at number eight, and what a return that turned out to be.
With their warm up disrupted owing to some of the side arriving late, and facing the large and dangerous Winlaton pack, Rockcliff started the game in a rain storm playing up the hill, against the wind, and when the rain stopped with the sun in their eyes.
Winlaton warmed to the task and put the Rock forwards under tremendous pressure in the scrum, and played the game as they know best, through their large pack.
It was no surprise then when after ten minutes they barged their way over for a try in the corner which went unconverted.
At this stage the Winlaton forwards were dominating the game, but the large crowd, had noticed that they were getting a bit niggly and resorting to what they felt was unnecessary foul play,.
Even though Rockcliff were playing up the hill they remained composed and played a lot of rugby in the Winlaton half.
But before half-time Winlaton had scored another forward try, converted, and notched a penalty to make the score 15-0 at the break.
Coach Tom Rendles was pleased with the half and rightly praised his players, and with the hill, the wind, and the backs playing with confidence he was confident that this game could be turned round after the break.
After 48 minutes centre Bryan Stewart scored one of his trademark tries when he waltzed through a static Winlaton defence to score a brilliant individual try under the posts, converted by Andrew Webster.
The pressure was building on the Winlaton side, 99 per cent of the game now being played in their half, and their big forwards were now huffing and puffing to get to the breakdown.
And their cause was not helped when the Winlaton hooker was involved in an incident with Bryan Stewart in front of the referee and was rightly shown a straight red card.
It was the second time this season he has been sent off against Rockcliff.
Rockcliff upped the pace and the confidence of the red and gold forwards rose and they took over and bossed the game.
Birkett excelled in the extra space and piled through the gap to score to make the score 15-12.
More pressure and again Birkett found a gap and scampered through the Winlaton defence to score, and Webster converted to make the score 15-19, and with only minutes remaining Rock were awarded a penalty on the five-metre line, the crowd called for points but Stewart wanted the bonus point with the four try.
A good decision as up popped young Birkett to crash over from the scrum for his hat-trick of tries, all very similar and all much valued. Webster converted and the final score was 15-26, two tries to four.
Man of the match could only be Birkett, but again this was a good performance by all; this team has found a new inner strength and does not give up, resulting in a seven match winning streak in the league.
Rockcliff’s next match is at home to Bishop Auckland on Saturday, March 10.