Newcastle’s rugby team have re-claimed the local bragging rights after coming from behind to defeat fierce rivals Northumbria in the annual season opener, Clash of the Titans. Second half tries from George Fellows and Dave Graham were enough to give Newcastle a narrow three-point win in a characteristically cagey affair at Kingston Park.
Last year’s Clash of the Titans will forever be remembered for the infamous streaker tackle that marred a high-scoring game, with Northumbria running out as eventual winners, 29-10. No such stripping occurred this time around; the 5,000 strong crowd were well behaved and the Newcastle faithful were in fine voice throughout.
The game itself started slowly. Both sides made early mistakes, as a combination of nerves and wet conditions threatened to limit any free-flowing rugby. Possession changed hands numerous times during the opening exchanges, as the two teams were repeatedly unable to force their way beyond the opposition 22-metre line.
“I got the call from our number 8 George Fellows and I just planned to drag a defender out and flick it back, he had the gas to get over the whitewash”
The first 12 minutes passed largely without incident before Newcastle managed to carve out their first meaningful attack of the game. Having won a penalty and kicked to the corner, the ball was swept out to Uni fly half Ben Nichols, whose grubber kick round the corner just evaded chaser Teddy Hewins.
After a surprisingly subdued start, the Poly supporters roared into life as Northumbria second row Josh Pettet provided the first big hit of the evening. Not wanting to be upstaged, the Newcastle section replied with a familiar chorus of “Feed the Poly”.
Newcastle’s set-piece taker Rhodri Adamson had the first opportunity to put a score on the board, but the full back, who has previously trained with the Newcastle Falcons, couldn’t convert from 30 metres out on the right. Adamson, who last year played in the number 10 role, looked much more assured as the side’s last line of defence and showed a steady pair of hands during the game’s early high-ball exchanges.
The match remained scoreless until the 22nd minute. In his eagerness to regain possession, Newcastle scrum half Duncan Swanson was caught offside as he tried to rip the ball from his opposite number. The resulting penalty was duly converted by Northumbria’s kicker, full back Donald Crawford, in front of the jubilant Poly stand.
Northumbria were only in front for a matter of minutes. Adamson made it 3-3, converting a penalty from a similar position in front of the posts and about 25 metres out. The final ten minutes of the first half saw the match revert back into a stop-start affair. Northumbria’s Matthew Minnett came closest to getting over the line, but for some resilient defence from the Newcastle forwards.
Intensity levels on and off the pitch rose as the referee signalled the start of the second period. Early pressure from Newcastle seemed to lift their section of the crowd and a chant of “Poly is a girl’s name” amused those inside the stadium.
The style of play became increasingly open in the second half, but the slippery conditions continued to cause havoc. 46 minutes in, Newcastle winger Teddy Hewins appeared to have broken free down the right and looked sure to go all the way, before suddenly losing his grip on the greasy ball and spilling forward.
Northumbria looked intent on punishing that error as they immediately mounted pressure on their opponents. The powerful Poly forwards put together a series of big drives as they edged closer to the goalposts. Finally, after a scrum five metres out, Stuart Nel managed to bundle himself over the line. Crawford kicked a simple conversion to make the score 3-10.
Newcastle needed an instant response and they got it. Spectacular link up play from Duncan Swanson and George Fellows allowed the latter to race through untouched and the number 8 simply had too much pace and power for the helpless Northumbria full back. Adamson failed to convert the try, leaving Newcastle trailing 8-10.
Speaking to The Courier after the match, Swanson talked through his phenomenal assist: “I got the call from our number 8 George Fellows and I just planned to drag a defender out and flick it back, he had the gas to get over the whitewash. It was a great try.”
The Clash was now in full flow, the two sets of supporters traded witty tunes, and on the pitch tackles flew in left and right, as both sides smelt victory. The Northumbrians thought they had increased their advantage when Crawford again looked to have converted a penalty kick, but despite cheers from the Poly end, the flags stayed down and the deficit remained just two points.
“It’s such a great and awesome feeling to win the Clash of the Titans. We controlled the game well and played in the right areas. It was a tough 80 minutes”
At the other end, Hewins appeared to be in to score but was denied once more; this time the winger had clearly put a foot into touch. Newcastle tried their luck with the opposite wing and Dave Graham found just enough room to race round the defender before diving for the corner with millimetres to spare.
With a slender three-point lead to protect, Newcastle needed to be tactically astute and relied on clever kicking from the boots of Swanson, Adamson and Nichols to repeatedly pin Northumbria back in their own half.
In the very final seconds of the match Newcastle were awarded a penalty. Adamson’s kick hit the post which kept the ball in play, but alive to the danger, the pack were quick to pounce and drove the ball carrier over the dead ball line. After what seemed like an eternity, the referee blew his whistle to confirm the long-awaited return of North East pride to Newcastle University.
“It’s such a great and awesome feeling to win Clash of the Titans”, confirmed Duncan Swanson. “It was a really good game, all credit to Northumbria, they came really hard at us, and it was a tough 80 minutes.”
“We controlled the game well and played in the right areas. We didn’t try to play too much in our own half and tried to pin them back. Our forwards worked really hard in and around the ruck and I thought we managed our kicking game very well.”