Saturday’s game had a lot to live up to, with both match reports calling the game at Penrith in February one of the best of the year. The victor would be in pole position to claim second place in the league and secure a home tie in the play-off with the West. The Woldsmen were missing experienced backs Dench and Piercy, but otherwise were at full strength.
Both sides started well showing their intention to move the ball around, and revelling in the first dry conditions for some considerable time. Driffield had the first chance when they pinched a scrum against the head and Furbank chipped through. Robinson showed electric pace to beat his man, but unfortunately couldn’t beat the ball which just rolled over the dead ball line.
Driffield continued to press, but their accuracy was lacking, with passes hitting the ground and off-loads not finding Driffield hands. Driffield’s back row was however, winning the battle on the floor with all three slowing down the ball and claiming their share of turnovers. Despite all the Driffield pressure, Penrith showed how dangerous they were when a half-break got them behind the Driffield defence and earned them a penalty, despite Gray appearing to strip the ball in contact. The kicker made no mistake and put Penrith ahead Driffield 0 – 3 Penrith.
Driffield settled back into their stride and went back on the attack. Captain Mewburn felt he had notched the home side’s first points after he hit a smart angle on the blind side, but was pulled up for crossing. Undaunted, Driffield kept pressing, forcing Penrith to concede a penalty which Furbank kicked to the corner. A well organised catch and drive looked to be heading towards the line, before Penrith stopped it illegally. Another catch and drive looked to be on the cards, but Gray moved the ball blind to hooker Brumfield and he crashed through a tackle to claim the score. Dinsdale converted from the touch line. Driffield 7 – 3 Penrith
Driffield made a mess of the restart, knocking the ball on and giving Penrith field position. Solid defence turned the ball over and Gray broke blind, finding Watts with an off-load out of the tackle. He made it to the visitors’ 22 before being caught from behind. The ball was recycled towards the clubhouse side but once again a knock-on brought an end to the move, leaving the half time score 7-3. Driffield would have the breeze at their backs in the second half, but given their possession and territory from the first half, seven points felt a small return. Penrith were a dangerous side and had the ability to cause problems from deep.
Driffield made an error from the restart, gifting field position to Penrith, who attacked relentlessly. The hallmark of Driffield’s play over the past couple of seasons has been their defence and once again it came to the fore. Led by captain Mewburn, ably assisted by Dinsdale, Cooper and Burns, attack after attack was rebuffed before Driffield won a penalty and managed to clear their lines. It was now Penrith’s turn to defend as Driffield started to gain a foothold in the second half but, like Driffield, their tackling was solid and offered the home side no way through.
Driffield claimed the first points of the second half, but only after Penrith had nearly scored themselves. Clever off-loading set the full back free, but he was hunted down by Furbank and Robinson snaffled the ball in the tackle allowing Driffield to clear. Driffield pinched the Penrith line-out and Furbank cleared long. Robinson followed up and made the tackle and claimed the ball back for Driffield. A penalty for Driffield saw Dinsdale put the ball deep into Penrith territory and a catch and drive saw Cooper held up. A back row move found George Mewburn and he kept his legs pumping, drawing in defenders. Gray spotted the space and put Robinson in the corner. Driffield 12 – 3 Penrith
The next ten minutes were crucial, and it coincided with a purple patch for Driffield. If passes were inaccurate in the first half, everything was now sticking and allowing Driffield to show their skills and claim a decisive lead. Scrum-half Gray set the next try in motion, claiming a high kick, before offloading to his forwards. Dinsdale carried it on, before Furbank spread the ball wide and found Robinson. Driffield kept recycling, allowing Gray to probe around the fringe and turn the ball back inside for number eight Burns to stroll under the posts, giving Dinsdale an easier conversion. Driffield 19 – 3 Penrith
Stout defence was needed once again, as Penrith came straight back, finding space and forcing Dinsdale to turn around and chase back to stop the attack. Furbank was kicking intelligently, turning Penrith around, and Driffield’s chase was turning good kicks into excellent ones. From one of these clearances, Mewburn scythed his man down allowing Watts to turn the ball over and give Driffield a penalty, which they put into touch on the Penrith 22. The ball was taken off the top to Gray who threw a big dummy and shimmied through a gap. He offloaded to Rob Mewburn and a further offload found J Dinsdale who charged over to claim the bonus point try with an excellent score. Driffield 24 – 3 Penrith
Still Penrith didn’t lie down, challenging the Woldsmen’s defence and claiming a penalty. They kicked to touch, and after multiple phases notched a deserved try, which they converted : final score Driffield 24 – 10 Penrith.
Much like the first meeting between these two sides, this was an outstanding game and a testament to the quality of rugby in this league. The result leaves Driffield’s destiny in their own hands, with another victory next week at Bradford enough to seal second place and a play-off spot. As Penrith know, Bradford is a tough place to visit, and the Bees have run into some late season form, and I’m sure would love to deny old rivals Driffield the chance of promotion.