A HOT sunny day by the coast saw undefeated visitors Seaton Carew travel up the A19 to a warm Hillheads welcome.
Rockcliff saw a few changes from the team that had played Wallsend on the season opener, with Rikki Hasnip coming in at centre, Ross Higginson at flanker, Liam Bowman fresh from Olympic duty, new signing Johnny Gould on the wing, and Stu Thomson at lock.
Seaton Carew started well with their big pack dominating the early stages and releasing a speedy winger, who completely outpaced the Rock defence to run in a great try.
Rock needed to dig deep and this they did, responding with a good move of their own which involved the barrelling runs of outstanding centre Ricki Hasnip, who released Richard Berne, who in turn fed winger Gould, and then to Steven Scott to go over for a try.
The forwards started to get a grip and veteran back row Karl Briggs was everywhere.
Young Rhys Johnstone had his shooting boots on at stand-off and kicked a penalty.
Then dynamic scrum-half Dan Simpson went over after the forwards had set the ball up, again Johnstone converting a difficult kick and at half-time the score was 17-5 to the cardinal and golds.
Another penalty from Johnstone soon after the break saw Rock move 20-10 ahead after Carew had reduced the deficit with a score.
Rock turned the screw and skipper Bryan Stewart finished an excellent move going under the posts.
Richard Berne capped a fine game by scoring the decisive and bonus point fourth try, moments after a move of fine flowing rugby that involved a pass of astonishing ability from the powerful Hasnip.
Next up for Rockcliff is a trip down the A19 to Seaton Carew’s near neighbours Hartlepool.
GATESHEAD RFC 4ths 20 ROCKCLIFF RFC 2nds 15
ROCKCLIFF Vikings made a promising start in their first league match of the season against Gateshead.
Vikings kicked off with the sun at their backs and controlled the match well during the early exchanges.
The first score came from a Rockcliff scrum deep inside their own half.
Paul Hardcastle picked from the base, drew in the Gateshead scrum-half and openside flanker before popping to captain Simon Tindall in an unfamiliar role at fly-half. Tindall ran through the gap between his opposite number and the forwards before stopping the full-back to score just wide of the posts. Lewis Partis adding the conversion.
Gateshead gave away numerous penalties due to Rockcliff pressure in defence.
Hardcastle, happy to relieve Tindall of place kicking duties, found some great touch kicks keeping Gateshead in their own half.
The forwards in the Vikings engine room were firing on all cylinders, Steve Common threading the needle in the lineout, finding Simon Cormack with ease. Mick Knott, Stephen Mason and weathered veteran Andy Sarin doing the graft in the loose.
Common found Cormack again in the lineout just outside the Gateshead 22, with the ball secured, Michael Donaldson set up a maul and the pack drove into the Gateshead 22.
Partis popped to Thomas Dawson coming round the corner at pace but was tackled by an offside player and Rock elected to go for the posts. Partis adding the three points.
Gateshead rang the changes, shoring up the forward play and getting under the skin of Rockcliff as ball-starved frustration started to kick in.
This showed in the scoreline at half-time as Rockcliff saw their hard worked lead of ten points more than halved to only four thanks to the boot of the Gateshead fly-half.
The Gateshead pack controlled the game for the majority of the second half and Rockcliff struggled with their set pieces.
In open play Gateshead changed to a pick and go game, causing problems for even the best Vikings defenders, fortunately Matt Dunbar was on hand to put in some try-saving tackles once the ball carrier had got into his field of vision.
The route one rugby eventually paid off for Gateshead as their tighthead bulldozed through a maul and scored wide of the posts.
Rockcliff responded hrough some great play from the backs who had seen little of the ball.
Centre Nick Dalton stopping a Gateshead crash runner in his tracks on the half way line before the forwards turned the ball over.
Partis gave out quick ball to Tindall who found centre Sam Heppell with a miss pass. Heppell picked a great line and got behind the defence, put in another wide pass to Andrew Telford who scorched up the wing, passed back inside to Dan Johnstone who was wrapped up short of the line, but Tindall, Dalton and Heppell were on hand to drive him over for a try and Rock were now ahead by two points.
With ten minutes left, Gateshead came straight back and as the Vikings had defended for the majority of the second half and it was starting to show.
The ball went wide to the Gateshead left wing and he scored in the corner.
The difficult conversion was added by the fly-half.
Rockcliff didn’t stop and could have won it in the last play of the match.
Andrew Sugden turned over the ball and Partis fired it out to the backs, Dalton drew two defenders and offloaded to Tindall on the loop before the contact.
Tindall threw a dummy and straightened and was behind the defence but had the Gateshead back row covering across, drawing the back row he threw a pass out to Chris Keen on the wing but Keen’s opposite number stuck a hand out and palmed the ball down, before the referee blew for full time.
Gateshead won the league last season with ease, but this Vikings side pushed them all the way.