Driffield travelled to Grange House Field knowing that, in all probability, only a win would keep them in the hunt for promotion. And, after Monday’s gruelling Yorkshire Cup semi-final loss in the mud and cold at Kelleythorpe only a Herculean effort against fellow high-flyers Morpeth would secure that victory.
As leaden skies started to tip their contents in a constant stream onto the already-soaked ground, the loyal travelling support must have feared a repeat of Monday’s defeat in the mud. Yet, what followed was an enthralling high octane game full of skill and endeavour from two sides determined to play as open and expansive rugby as they could.
Driffield saw the return of Furbank at 10 and James Watts in at fullback for the injured Alex Piercy. Burns, Mewburn and Zavatti returned to the pack.
The game started at a good pace, both sides looking to run the ball at any opportunity. The Woldsmen looked confident with ball in hand, building phases patiently, probing at the home defence. Burns was soon in the thick of it, always making yards from 8 and, when Dench pushed a neat little kick into the corner, Ward at full-back for Morpeth had no option than to clear to touch close to his own line, giving the Woldsmen a good attacking position. Brumfield’s aim was good and the pack drove forward. Mewburn G powered on, the ball being recycled many times but the home defence was calm and well-organised and eventually a knock-on gave them chance to clear.
Back came the Woldsmen, this time through the backs, Stephenson always looking dangerous and the handling in general being of a very high standard given the conditions. The ball was driven into centre field and Morpeth again stood up well in defence. Old war-horse Borman driving short, and Gray at scrum-half seemingly in his element making sniping half-breaks in the mud and blather. Loose ball was smartly recovered by Cooper who was having another excellent game in the loose. Time was passing : nearly half-way through the first half and no score but then, over-eager in defence, Morpeth were pinged for offside and Driffield awarded a penalty 35 metres out to the left of the posts. Up stepped Dinsdale to calmly slot the ball between the posts and give the visitors a slender lead. Morpeth 0 – 3 Driffield
The home side were soon testing their visitors’ defence as it was now their turn to turn the screw. Strong running from Craig and Williams saw them closing on the Driffield line but equally-stout resilience kept them out. However, worryingly for the visitors, the scrum was coming under some real pressure and when they were pushed off their own ball it looked inevitable that a home score was coming, only to be thwarted once again with some crunching tackles from both Mewburns, Brumfield and then Dench. The ball was turned over and Furbank was able to clear to allow the Woldsmen to regroup.
Minutes later Morpeth received a yellow card for a swinging arm on Gray as he desperately tried to get the ball away from the breakdown. From the ensuing line-out it was Stephenson who made a searing trademark break through the middle to make good yards only to be hauled down just inside the 22. Good quick recycling and the ball was in Mewburn G’s hand : moving at pace he looked sure to bullock his way over close to the posts but an excellent last-ditch tackle dislodged the ball and the chance was gone.
The second half resumed in much the same vein as the first. Burns was outstanding at 8 and skipper Mewburn’s work-rate phenomenal. Brumfield was tackling like a demon. The backs were still looking to run and maybe on occasion the visitors were guilty of trying to play too much rugby in their own half. But their endeavour paid off when good hands brought them up to the opposition 22 and Dench once again put a nice little chip through close to the Morpeth line, eventually forcing an attacking 5m scrum after the ball was recovered and held up over the line giving an excellent attacking position. Could this be the moment that the Woldsmen put some daylight between them and their worthy adversaries? Sadly for them and their loyal support it was not meant to be as a great defensive scrummage from the home side and a good sniping tackle on Burns by Elliott brought the attack to a halt. Driffield were, for once, a little slow to the break-down and consequently ended up conceded a penalty.
At this stage of the game one felt that Morpeth were starting to take the ascendancy. After prolonged pressure from the visitors, it was they that started to run the ball more freely. Full-back Ward looked particularly dangerous as he set off on a gliding run, belying the conditions, slipping past several would-be tacklers taking the ball right up to the 22. Good support meant it was now the Woldsmen who had to face the pressure, which they did with sometimes desperate defence.
As the half moved on the travelling support started to fear the worst. Furbank had a kick charged-down and only determined scrambling defence secured the ball to give him a second opportunity to clear the ball and the immediate danger, which he did.
The rugby was intense, and the atmosphere electric as they moved into the final stages of the game with the score still just 0 – 3.
Furbank was injured making a crunching tackle close to the half-way touch and had to leave the field. But with the backs re-jigged Driffield finished the game looking the more likely to score, and when Gray booted the ball out to allow the referee to blow the final whistle the points were in the bag and the job done.
It may have been only three-nil but this game had all the elements that make a great game and both teams deserve much credit for that. Morpeth will be understandably disappointed to lose a game which finally extinguished any hopes of making the play-off but they should be extremely proud of the part they played, not only on Saturday but all season.
As for the Driffield boys, they showed patience and maturity and most of all a durability that saw them through when it looked likely they would crack. George Mewburn was voted Man of the Match after another uncompromising display, but the award could have gone to any one of many who made fine contributions : Oliver Cooper, skipper Mewburn and of course the ever-sublime Burns to name just a few.
So, next week the heat gets turned up another notch or three when Penrith come to Kelleythorpe in what in all likelihood will be the decider for either the play-off place or even a shot at the top spot. It is a lot of years since Driffield have been in this position – dare we hope? The boys have given us much cause to!