Supporters turned up in good numbers to welcome back everyone to Kelleythorpe, where ‘normal’ rugby had not been played since 7 March 2020 – as it happens, against the day’s rivals, Scarborough. It was a nice change to be able to play rugby on a pitch that was not baked as hard as it often is at the start of a season. Yet again it looked in perfect condition due to the work of the club’s grounds staff.
The 1st XV squad have been keeping active during the lockdowns and were all in great shape for the season. During the summer the club gained Tosh Askew as coach, and he has headed up the club’s training during this summer. He has also held coaching courses for other club coaches, with the aim of developing a 1-club playing style, meaning that players can move more easily between the teams. Alongside Tosh, Alex Piercy continues as backs’ coach and Ed Falkingham returns to Driffield from his spell at Hull Ionians. Ed will be a player / coach, taking charge of the forwards helped by Mitch. Coops and Bash will be making sure that everything is going in the right direction as usual.
The league for the 2019-20 season was finalised with York as champions, moving up to North Premier this season. Huddersfield YMCA, West Hartlepool and Percy Park were relegated, and Kendal moved back across to North West. These spaces were filled with Ilkley and Morpeth, who were relegated from North Premier. Old Brodleians, Heath and Consett all gained promotion and join life in North One East.
A warm welcome was given to local rivals Scarborough, who made the short trip south for the 1st league game of the new season. The Driffield squad was depleted by farmers still busy bringing in the harvest or drilling the next, as well as injury and wedding commitments – the missing players would have made a decent squad on their own. But this is a good problem to have, showing the strength and depth of the squad, as an excellent side took to the pitch.
The game started with Scarborough getting the greater part of territory, spending a lot of time in Driffield’s half. Although they never looked like crossing the whitewash, the pressure eventually paid when Driffield gave away a penalty which was converted. Driffield 0 – 3 Scarborough
Play continued in Driffield’s half for some time, with the home side unable to break out even though the forwards were bossing the scrums. Driffield were giving away penalties, but were fortunate that Scarborough did not convert them.
Eventually the Driffield forwards carried the ball into the Scarborough 22. After a number of phases, they rumbled it over the line for Matthew Jenkinson to emerge from the bottom of the heap to claim the try, which went unconverted. Driffield 5 – 3 Scarborough.
Play continued in the same vein, with Scarborough having the balance of territory. But knock-ons by Scarborough, and penalties by Driffield, kept play largely in the Driffield half. Finally, Driffield broke out and scored another rumbling try, again claimed by Jenkinson and unconverted. Driffield 10 – 3 Scarborough.
The winning margin was wiped out at 35 minutes, when the Scarborough 10 cleverly intercepted a pass in the Driffield three-quarters and raced away for a 70-yard try under the sticks, which was converted. Driffield 10 – 10 Scarborough.
Just before the half time whistle, Driffield carried the ball forward in the middle of the field till Ben Johnson broke through using his weight and strength to run 20 yards through tackles, scoring just to the right of the posts, with Watts claiming the conversion. Driffield 17 – 10 Scarborough
In the second half, Driffield were more in control but kept giving away valuable yards by ceding penalties. In time, this gave Scarborough the chance to respond and score under the sticks for a converted try. Driffield 17 – 17 Scarborough.
With the game once again balanced, neither side were able to break the deadlock until, 5 minutes before time, Nellen caught a clearance kick on half-way and carried forward well. The ball was kept alive and found Watts at 10, who took the open side to race under the sticks and score a try, duly converted. Driffield 24 – 17 Scarborough
With 4 minutes to go, all Driffield had to do was close the game down and run the clock out, but penalties were again their undoing. Two in a row pushed them back deep into their own 22. From a lineout, Scarborough secured the ball and spun it out. They broke through the middle of the line to score to the left of the posts. With no time left for a restart, the successful conversion secured the draw. Driffield 24 – 24 Scarborough
Scarborough’s cheer at the final whistle showed they considered it a ‘win’. Driffield’s supporters felt it was a lost opportunity to start the season well. A small crumb of comfort for Driffield is that the 4-try tally gives them a bonus point, which will is likely to be valuable as the season progresses.
Both sides will have been rusty after a long lay-off, and will want to up their game for forthcoming matches. Driffield need to work on their penalty count, and get into the habit of closing out games when they are in the lead.