The 1st XV finally returned to action following the Christmas break, and the last-minute postponement of last week’s trip to Durham following positive Covid results in the squad.

Consett made the long trip down to Kelleythorpe knowing that, at one place off the bottom of the league with just one win all season, this was likely to be a tough day at the office playing league leaders Driffield.  However, Consett, who have bounced between this league and the one below for some seasons, have track record for improvement in the second half of the season so perhaps this was not a ‘gimme’ ?

At kick-off, the fog had lifted so visibility was good but spectators wondered whether it would be dark before the end of the game.

Driffield came straight of the blocks like an express train, exuding confidence in spite of their four week lay-off.  The ball was spun right along the backs, involving everyone.  They reached just 10 yards out from the Consett line, when the attack was halted by a knock-on by a defender.

A scrum was awarded, as it had been a fair attempt to intercept, and Driffield had the put-in.  The ball was secured and worked along the line to the left, where it found Sowersby looping round in support.  He went in just to the left of the posts, making Watts’ conversion a straightforward effort.  Driffield were seven to the good after just three minutes’ play.

From the kick-off, Driffield returned to the attack and pounded the Consett defence.  This could only hold so long and, four minutes later, Driffield were awarded a scrum on the left of the pitch about 10 yards out.  This time the ball went along the line to the right, and found the hands of Johnson.  He used his strength and size to burst through the defence, scoring just left of the sticks.  Watts slotted the conversion to give Driffield a 14-point lead after just seven minutes.

It looked as though the flood gates had burst, but Consett were having none of it.  From the restart, they won the ball back and launched a sustained and full-blooded attack.  Driffield’s defence was able to soak it up until the mistake came.  Jenkinson intercepted a loose pass and was clear on his way to the posts when the referee called him back for offside.

Driffield won the ball back after the penalty, and returned to the attack, getting the ball through the hands and keeping it alive. Eventually Blacker found a half-gap and went through, to be stopped only just short of the line by the Consett cover tackle.

Driffield maintained the pressure but the points did not come : the Consett defence was solid but also, it seemed, Driffield were trying just a little too hard and there were too many little mistakes.  One of these was on 24 minutes, when good passing along the backs and a man overlap came to nothing through a simple knock-on.  Perhaps slowing things down a fraction would help them sharpen up their play?

On the half-hour, during another Driffield attack, Consett’s scrum-half intercepted a loose pass on the half-way.  He tore through the gap, pinned his ears back and set off for the line.  He was only ten yards from it when the cover defence brought him down.  This would prove to be the closest Consett came to scoring.

Driffield’s persistent attacking continued to be thwarted by small mistakes but, with five minutes left in the half, Scurry collected a Consett clearance kick and ran it back hard at them.  The ball came loose in the tackle, but Johnson was on his shoulder and hacked it on, across the line.  Jenkinson was there to take advantage but was adjudged to have knocked on the bobbling ball before grounding it.

In the final minute of the half, Robinson took a quick tap from a penalty on the Consett 22, and flipped the ball left to Johnson.  He stormed down the wing and went 15 yards to cross the whitewash in the corner, too far out for Watts to convert.  This left the score at 19-0 at the half-time whistle.

Driffield returned to the attack in the second half, and reached the five-yard line but were unable to cross and the ball was cleared to the 22.  From the lineout, the ball was spun right along the backs, reaching Blacker who rounded the defence for an easy run-in, converted by Watts.

This will have been dispiriting for Consett, who had travelled a long way and were now looking down the barrel of another defeat.  Their stamina was starting to fade – they had put so much effort into defence in the first half.

They held out for another ten minutes, when Driffield brought on Robson.  His fresh legs allowed him to burst through the centre and run fully 30 yards before being halted, but the ball was not recycled well and possession was lost, but not for long.

From a scrum just outside Consett’s 22, the ball was spun along the backs, reaching Scurry who beat his defending winger and went over for the score, too far out for the conversion.

One sensed that this took the wind out of Consett’s sails : defensive holes started to appear and they started to make mistakes, and Driffield now camped in their half.  With twenty minutes left, Driffield worked the ball to the right and a rumbling maul carried them over the line, Rob Murray claiming the points, well-converted by Watts.

In their attempt to stop the attack, Consett were given a yellow card.  This was compounded when, just three minutes later, they were given a second yellow for persistent offside.

With two men down, the floodgates opened and five tries came in ten minutes.  The first came from a Driffield scrum 10 yards out.  Brankley picked up from the back and headed straight for the line knowing that there would be gaps.  He crossed between the posts and Watts made the straightforward conversion.

The next came with ten minutes to go.  Consett won a scrum in spite of shortage of numbers, and sought to mount an attack.  However, Driffield’s defence was up flat, and a loose pass was gladly intercepted.  The ball was sent left down the Driffield line, finding Ryan Murray who went in for a straightforward try, again converted by Watts.

From the restart, Cullen collected the ball and set off through the tired defence, reaching the 5-yard line before being stopped.  The ball was recycled quickly and sent left, going quickly and accurately through the hands.  Watts had looped round and appeared in the line to take the ball over for the try.  His conversion was missed, striking the outside of the post.

Almost from the restart, Brankley rampaged through the middle to go in for his second of the day, converted by Watts.

Consett barely got time to collect their breath before Driffield were back on the attack.  Cullen got the ball on the twenty-two and ran straight at the sticks, shrugging off tacklers on the way and went in under the posts for the final try of the day, converted by Watts.

In the end, this was a comfortable victory for Driffield, and the margin could have been higher if play in the first half had been crisper.  Blacker was named Man of the Match – he was everywhere on the pitch, carrying the ball with great assurance, breaking tackles and finding gaps, and always on the shoulder for support.

One had to admire the spirit of the Consett squad who gave what they could, even though they were clearly up against it.  It would have been easy for them to blame others for their mistakes and lack of success, but they kept their composure and never gave up trying.

With Brodleians losing narrowly at Pocklington, Driffield’s lead has extended to four points with a game in hand, but it is still all to play for with five teams in the mix for promotion.