Saturday, 25 March.
With only 4 league games left this season, Driffield travelled to Cumbria on Saturday for the encounter with Penrith. The hosts currently lie 3rd in North East One, and still have chance of promotion. They have an enviable home record, with only one defeat and a draw all season. Driffield were going into the fixture with six consecutive wins, and had reason to fancy their chances. The home game against this opposition in November was a close run affair, with Penrith taking the spoils by 18–15, and Driffield feeling unlucky on the day. Coaches Cooper, Mitchell-Williams and McClarron are wily enough to know the size of the task for their team to get a result on the away leg. Match conditions were sunny and warm, but the pitch had taken plenty of rain and snow during the week, making going heavy.
From the kick-off Penrith showed their early intent. In the tight, they got a good drive on the first scrum, and Burns at 8 had to work hard with scrum-half Gray to get the ball away as they went backwards. With some early Driffield pressure, the opposition were penalised in the tackle, and Brigham opened Driffield’s account after 6 minutes with the penalty kick. Driffield 3 – Penrith 0
A short while later Penrith went on the attack when their powerful wing Donald almost broke free, but good Driffield defence forced the knock-on. There were encouraging signs for the Woldsmen with their forwards, in particular Nellen, making metres each time he had the ball in hand. Gray, with his constant sniping runs, was looking to break clear. Brigham had another penalty attempt from about 40 metres, which he pushed wide. Penrith immediately responded. They intercepted a Driffield pass, and once again Donald took off down the wing, but a tremendous tackle by Brigham put the huge winger into touch on the halfway. On 22 minutes Penrith struck after a couple of impressive forward drives, and managed to score a converted try close to the Driffield posts, despite brave defence. Driffield 3 – Penrith 7
The back-row trio of Burns, Mewburn and Mewburn were once again functioning well. On one occasion, Rob Mewburn won an excellent turn-over, but the ensuing attack fizzled out. Penrith threatened danger after a ruck close to Driffield’s line, when their scrum-half went for the line but was stopped dead in his tracks. In the tackle Driffield won a penalty and cleared their lines. On 30 minutes Brumfield rotated with Pettinger at hooker. A short while later, a series of 3 consecutive Penrith scrums in their own half were being disrupted under intense pressure, but the hosts finally worked an exit strategy to clear the danger. The Driffield defence around the fringes was secure, and Burns and Nellen were competing with each other for ‘most ground made’. With 5 minutes to half time, Penrith started to gain ascendancy. From an attacking 5 metre scrum, their No 8 picked up and drove for the line. He was stopped short but the scrum-half was on hand to carry the move on and went over for the try. Driffield 3 – Penrith 14.
This close to half-time was not a good time to go further behind. Driffield were up to the challenge and immediately responded. From a line-out close to the host’s line, Driffield caught and drove for the line. A try was almost certain as they rumbled to the line, but Penrith in desperation came around off side. The referee had no hesitation and ran under the posts to award a penalty try to Driffield. Brigham added the points, with the referee ‘yellow-carding’ the offender. A great response immediately before the half-time whistle. Driffield 10 – Penrith 14
Even with a man in the bin, Penrith took the upper hand early on in the second half. Driffield managed to temper the situation with 2 bone-crunching tackles, first from Rob Mewburn and, not to be outdone, one from George. Penrith missed an early penalty attempt from 40 metres. There was some good defence elsewhere, with Turner justifying his inclusion, and Brumfield tackling well above his weight at the breakdown. On 50 minutes Ramsden, after some great reviews in the 2nds, was given his chance, as he came on for Ollie Cooper. A short while later, Driffield’s hard-working scrum stole one against the head, as they had threatened earlier, but they could not make good use of it as they got turned-over at the following breakdown. They soon made amends; after a good forward surge Robinson broke and managed to create space down the left, shipped the ball to Stephenson and continuing his rich vein of form, skipped over for the try out wide. Brigham added the points with a good conversion. Driffield 17 – Penrith 14
The travelling faithful had reason to feel an important away win was close. This was dampened somewhat when Dinsdale, who has been having a fine season, had to retire with an ankle injury. On sprinted the evergreen McClarron and spirits once again were raised. He was joined shortly by Pettinger, back onto the pitch, this time to show his considerable versatility at tight head in place of captain Dervey. The Driffield scrummaging has developed steadily after some difficulties in early season. Once again improvement was evidenced, when Penrith had to withstand 3 scrum resets as they struggled to strike for their own ball. Penrith were unlucky on the hour when their scrum-half forced his way over the visitors’ line, but the referee adjudged crossing during the movement and awarded a welcome penalty to Driffield. Penrith persisted and after more pressure, won a penalty under the Driffield posts which they converted. Driffield 17 – Penrith 17
The Woldsmen were desperate for the win and responded. On the Penrith 22, the ball was moved wide. Dench moved the ball swiftly to Stephenson who straightened and ran a great line for his second try. Brigham converted. Driffield 24 – Penrith 17
Dench, who has brought toughness to the Driffield midfield, succumbed to a leg strain. This meant Cooper coming on, and leaving a forward in the backs. Driffield continued some good defensive work, with Ramsden making a valuable contribution. Penrith desperate to preserve their record managed to squeeze over again and, with the conversion, levelled the score. Final Score Driffield 24 – Penrith 24.
Penrith’s supporters felt that they had been extremely lucky to share the points. They might be correct, but their team showed that they are resilient, and deserve their league position. Driffield knew they should have won. The injuries to key backs Dench and Dinsdale did not help them. There is no doubt this team will develop strategies for closing down tight games and sealing victories. This was a commendable away result and they demonstrated superb team spirit and togetherness. With Durham, Alnwick and Morpeth lying in wait, the coaches will allow no let up.