For the second week in a row, the 1st XV had a derby game : this time at home and against Malton and Norton RUFC. This would be one of only three games played in North One East, as four other games were postponed.
Derby matches are unpredictable things, and the previous meeting at the Gannock at the start of the season ended in a draw after Driffield gave up a good lead. The coaches would be keen to avoid a repeat.
The back division was the same as the previous week and, front row rotations aside, the only significant change was for Horner to come into the side as a late replacement.
As the previous week’s game had finished in the near dark, the kick-off had been brought forward to 14:00. This seemed a very wise decision as it was a grey and murky day, and it did not look beyond the realms of possibility that fog would blanket the pitch at some point.
Driffield started well and applied pressure on Malton until, seven minutes, in they were awarded a penalty that Watts converted to give them an early lead. Driffield 3 – 0 Malton & Norton
From the restart, Malton won the ball back and put Driffield under significant pressure for some time, although they never managed to breach the 22 because of solid defence. Eventually, with quarter of an hour gone, Driffield gave away a kickable penalty and it looked as if Malton would draw level. Surprisingly the kick drifted wide – all kickers can have an off day.
Not long after, Malton won the ball at the scrum and moved the ball out wide to the left. They breached the defence and a try looked certain, but the final pass was dropped.
For several minutes play bounced around the half-way, both sides trading kicks hoping that mistakes would be made. However, both were solid under the high ball – what was letting the game down was nervy play, with knock-ons and inaccurate passes by both teams.
Driffield started to keep the play tighter and the support play and accuracy of pop-passes showed dividends when they reached the Malton 22 as the half-hour approached. They ground their way toward the try line but knocked on just before they reached it.
From the Malton scrum, the stand-off took a Barbarians approach and tried to run it out of defence, but only made ten metres. But Malton, who were performing better in the tight, won the ball back and worked their way back up the field until Driffield regained it on their own ten-metre line.
The ball was popped to Jenkinson who charged forward, jinking around attempted tackles, and set off like a missile. He was too fast for the covering wingers and went in under the sticks on the half-hour for an easily converted try and a ten-point lead. Driffield 10 – 0 Malton & Norton
Supporters hoped that this would give Driffield confidence and minimise the mistakes, but both sides returned to nervy play. Driffield had the balance of possession but, not for want of effort, did not manage to convert it to territory.
With a minute to go in the half, a Malton prop picked up a loose pass and broke the defence. He was ten metres clear and on the way to the line with support on hand. To the relief of the home crowd, the referee blew up for an earlier offence and play was brought back. The half ended with Driffield 10 points up.
The second half started without Mewburn who had been given a yellow card for offside just before half time. The man advantage reinforced Malton’s scrum dominance, and they got a good drive on into Driffield territory. Having reached the 22, their forwards kept up the good work. This was rewarded on 47 minutes with a well-converted try to narrow the gap to three. Driffield 10 – 7 Malton & Norton
This stung Driffield into action, and they mounted sustained pressure against an excellent defence, eventually reaching the five-metre line. Jenkinson appeared from the back of the scrum and burst for the line, but was held up just short.
Shortly after, Driffield were awarded a penalty just five metres out and, showing great self-confidence, went for the tap-and-go and not the lineout. After several attempts to breach the Malton wall, Sowersby eventually made it through after Robinson was stopped just short, and scored to the left of the sticks. The conversion by Watts restored the gap to ten. Driffield 17 – 7 Malton & Norton
Play returned to the middle of the park, and ebbed and flowed between the two ten-metre lines for quite a time. Finally, with ten minutes left on the clock, Malton were awarded a penalty and the 25-metre conversion was made. The crowd feared another draw was in prospect. Driffield 17 – 10 Malton & Norton
It took a full five minutes before Driffield were able to work their way back into Malton territory. The ball was sent down the line to the waiting Ryan Murray. He carried the ball forward well, making twenty metres but was robustly tackled and lost the ball forward in the impact.
With just two minutes to go, Driffield were back in their own half and kicked to clear their lines. The ball hung in the air for long enough to allow Driffield’s attack to be up on the Malton receiver, and he was penalised for delaying the release of the ball.
With the clock running down, Driffield went for touch in the Malton 22 and secured the ball at the lineout. The referee had signalled that time was up, and Driffield’s first attempt to kick the ball dead was charged down. Fortunately the ball bounced kindly and the second attempt was put away to end this tense encounter.
Summing up, this was a well-contested game with neither side dropping their guard, or wanting to give up bragging rights. Both sides’ defences were outstanding, and neither sides’ backs were given much opportunity as Malton’s forward strength allowed them to influence the style of the game.
Malton will rue the missed penalty and try, and will be disappointed to get only a losing bonus point. Driffield will be disappointed that they could not get a winning bonus and this allows Old Brodleians to close the gap at the top of the table to just one point.
There is now a three-week break for the 1st XV until the season restarts with a game at Durham City on 8 January. The coaches hope this will allow time for injured players to return to fitness in time for the remainder of the season.
The next game at Driffield RUFC will be the annual Steve Knowles Memorial Game at 1:30 on Monday, 27 December.