As this eagerly awaited Durham Senior Cup semi-final eventually got underway this Easter Saturday, it was somewhat unfortunate that both teams were forced to field changes to their usual line-ups, due to injury and unavailability.
It was DMPRFC who started the game on the attack, initially forcing Billingham into some defending on their own line. However, this quickly changed, when from a ruck five metres out, DMPRFC were penalised for holding on and the ball was passed to the visiting full back who, finding no-one defending, outstripped all covering runners to the line (0 – 5).
DMPRFC were stung into action by this and took the game to Billingham, pressing forward with some bullocking runs from their front five, ably assisted by the No.8 and former Billingham player, Danny DIXON.
Billingham were up to the task though and proved mean in defence, which was anticipated given their statistics throughout the course of their league season to date.
It wasn’t for another fifteen minutes that DMPRFC registered their first points after some good, tight interplay from the forwards.
From an attacking lineout, the ball was taken by Tom SCHOFIELD and after a driving maul, lock Andy WILSON was forced over for the try (5 – 5). The kick wasn’t straight forward, but fly half Sam ERRINGTON made light work of it to take the lead (7 – 5).
Unfortunately, Andy WILSON retired injured shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Michael WHINN.
Billingham had contributed with attacking phases of their own during this period and it was the home sides turn to defend, which they did in kind until a gap appeared in midfield, allowing the visitors to add a further score before oranges (7 – 10), which was converted (7 – 12).
Another injury to Graeme SEDDON, allowed Junior Fagalilo to enter the fray and contribute his experience.
DMPRFC tried to regain the lead prior to oranges, however the dogged defence of Billingham limited them to a successful penalty by Sam ERRINGTON (10 – 12) prior to the whistle for the interval.
So, honours were about even at oranges, as coaches discussed the progress to that point and plotted the demise of their opponents after oranges.
Changes were made at oranges by both sides in an attempt to find that extra spark.
Combat started immediately at the resumption, with neither side giving an inch, battering away at their respective opposite numbers over a ten minute period.
It was DMPRFC who made the break through, when Sam ERRINGTON capitalised on poor discipline by the visitors, slotting home a 35-yard penalty to inch his team into the lead (13 – 12).
More team changes followed, as it appeared as though the next score would be the crucial event.
It came from the home side, initially taken into the heart of the Billingham defence by Zylon McGaffin and by Junior Fagalilo, a well timed pass was followed by a lovely break by centre Tom Hodgson, who created the space for Shaun McCARTNEY to receive the ball to score (18 – 12).
Billingham tried to respond, but they were thwarted by a mixture of good defence, their own frustration at trying to force the game and other influences beyond their control.
The game looked sealed, when DMPRFC’s Sam ERRINGTON was successful with a sweetly struck drop goal (21 – 12), seemingly putting the game beyond the visitors, who were trying everything to respond.
However, Billingham had not read the script and bounced back with a score from a quickly taken penalty to score (21 – 17). In the player’s haste to recover the ball to take the conversion, which was successful (21 – 19), the scorer was over eager and was adjudged to have transgressed by the official, who rewarded him with a yellow card.
With the clock ticking down, it was DMPRFC’s penalty from the restart and they kicked to touch, playing out the remainder of the game tightly for the win.
All in all an entertaining game for the decent crowd and perhaps DMPRFC just deserved it on the day.