Valiant Woldsmen pipped at final whistle

High-flying Penrith made the long trip from the West coast on Saturday to face a Driffield side defending an unbeaten home record. The large crowd was treated to an enthralling game that ebbed and flowed right until the last kick of the game.

Driffield were forced into more changes with Binnington out injured. Fortunately Brankley returned, which meant Burns moved up to the second row. In the backs, Sowersby moved to the wing to allow Sadler to return in the centre.

An accident had held up the Penrith bus which meant a late kick-off, and it was perhaps unsurprising that Driffield struck first with a penalty from Brigham. Driffield’s backs have looked dangerous all season and they tested the Penrith defence from deep early, spreading the ball wide to Dinsdale who made yards down the wing before the move broke down. Penrith’s defence was excellent during this fast start for the Woldsmen, nullifying the forward’s effort and shutting down the backs. Brigham added a second penalty, but it felt like more was needed to show for all the home side’s efforts.

Brigham was varying play well, running onto the ball to keep the defence honest and kicking well for position. Up-front Brankley was making his presence felt and Nellen was carrying strongly. It was soon after that Penrith showed how dangerous they could be on the counter, making yards through their backs. Well-led by a clever fly-half, they only needed the sniff of a gap to demonstrate why they are the league’s leading scorers.

Brumfield took his customary strike against the head to set up the next Driffield attack. Strong carrying by Pettinger led to a good period of keeping the ball from the home side that ended with a Penrith player being sin-binned. Brigham stepped up just inside the Penrith half and added three more points. The next score was crucial, and it went to the visitors just on the stroke of half-time. A concerted period of pressure ended with a free kick from a scrum which was taken quickly and touched down to make the half time score 9-5.

Needing to start the half quickly again, it was the Woldsmen who found themselves on the back foot from kick-off, losing a lineout and conceding a penalty just inside the Driffield half. This hit the post and Sowersby scrambled it to touch. From a lineout on half-way, Penrith scythed through the home defence and only a last-ditch tackle by Furbank prevented the visitors adding another score. Momentum definitely felt like it had swung, and after the Penrith fly-half made 30 yards with a break, Driffield conceded a penalty to make it 9-8. Further pressure saw the Woldsmen offside in midfield and another three points sent Penrith into the lead for the first time.

Credit must go to Driffield for getting themselves back into a position to win the game from here. Against a good side full of confidence they showed determination and no little skill to work into position to add two further penalties, one from just inside the Penrith half. At 15-11, the match was precariously poised, with a try for the visitors almost certain to seal victory as the clock ticked towards full-time. Constant pressure was matched by solid defence, but in the gathering gloom a feint inside from the Penrith fly-half saw him cross near the posts for a converted try.

Still Driffield didn’t give up. From the restart, Brankley regathered the ball and won a penalty just inside the Penrith half. Brigham stepped up from 50 yards but just pushed the kick wide leaving the final score 15-18.

Driffield will naturally be disappointed but will draw many positives from the game. They matched their opponents in most facets of the game, but came up against a well organised defence that they couldn’t break down. Brigham’s goal kicking was excellent, rounding off an accomplished display. His half-back partner Sheader continues to impress, with good service and relentless energy. Up-front the effort was non-stop. Pettinger has the bit between his teeth at the moment, making a big impression in the loose. Burns was his usual excellent self, and Brankley showed why he has been missed, carrying with real intent. The difference between the top and bottom of this league is small, and with a bit of luck Driffield could have notched victories over the two current top sides. A different task awaits next week, when they visit one of the form sides in the league at Durham.