The 1st XV squad boarded the coach at 9am for their furthest away game of the season – a 250-mile round-trip to Morpeth.
There were a few changes to the previous week’s squad : notably skipper Rob Mewburn’s return from paternity leave, and Robinson on the bench because of last-minute availability issues, allowing the Watts brothers to form the half-back pairing.
The squad arrived in good time at the ninth-placed Northumbrian club’s ground, giving them plenty of time to shake off the cobwebs that can happen with long road trips.
Both teams got stuck in straight from the kick-off, and play moved backward and forward between the 22s until, after steady pressure from Driffield, Morpeth were penalised. James Watts slotted the straightforward kick to give Driffield a narrow three-point lead after five minutes. Morpeth 0 – 3 Driffield
Morpeth came straight back at Driffield, winning the ball back at the kick-off and reaching deep into Driffield territory, gaining a five-yard scrum. From that position, an eight-man shove seemed likely, or a pick-up-and-go from the eight, but Morpeth decided to go wide. Driffield went offside trying to defend, giving away an easy penalty, converted on seven minutes to make it Morpeth 3 – 3 Driffield
Play returned to the middle of the pitch, with Driffield in possession and working the phases, probing for a chink in the defence without success. Finally, after a full five minutes of effort, Morpeth were penalised for offside and Watts gladly took the three points on offer, putting Driffield back into a narrow lead. Morpeth 3 – 6 Driffield
Morpeth returned to the attack and, just three minutes later, were rewarded by a straightforward penalty kick for a high tackle. The score was now poised at six each with fifteen minutes gone, and everything was to play for. Morpeth 6 – 6 Driffield
With play again ebbing and flowing either side of the half-way line, Cullen took a bad knock in some robust defence and play stopped while he was assessed – after a few nervous minutes he was able to continue, to the relief of the travelling support.
Driffield continued to attack, working the ball left and then right, again looking for any weakness. A break down the right looked on, but the final pass did not go to hand and the initiative was lost.
Morpeth were awarded a scrum, and the referee adjudged that Driffield’s pack had deliberately wheeled it and awarded a penalty. Morpeth took a quick tap and broke down the field, spinning the ball out to the left, but the Driffield defence had the man covered.
Morpeth had another scrum on the left of the pitch, and a set move looked on with the right-winger standing wide out on the touchline. Driffield had spotted in, and had defence out wide too.
Morpeth opted to go through the centres, sucking in the cover defence. The ball was recycled quickly and spun out to the now unmarked winger, who galloped in for a run-in try. The conversion was just missed, and Morpeth were five points in front with 30 minutes played. Morpeth 11 – 6 Driffield
Morpeth won the ball back from the restart, and booted the ball deep into Driffield territory, falling just outside the 22. The ball was passed back into the 22, and Watts’ excellent clearance counted for nothing as Morpeth had the lineout back at the line of the kick. At the lineout, Driffield were penalised and Morpeth took the points to increase their lead to eight. Morpeth 14 – 6 Driffield
With five minutes left in the half, Driffield’s attack eventually found a gap, when the ball was scrambled to the left, finding Rix who rounded his opposite number, and went in at the corner, too far out for the conversion. Morpeth 14 – 11 Driffield
With two minutes left in the half, Rix blocked a hack through by Morpeth on the halfway, halting their attack. Stealing the ball at a lineout, and with a superb inside pass making the gap, Driffield reached the five-yard line, and a try looked on. Morpeth went offside in defence, but the attempt was missed and Driffield were just three points behind at half time.
The second half started like much of the first, with both sides committed in attack and resolute in defence. Trying to mix things up to see if it would change their fortunes, a high up-and-under on the halfway was superbly taken by the Morpeth winger, catching Driffield’s defence up flat. He broke for the line and had a comfortable run-in, allowing an easy conversion and extending the lead to ten. Morpeth 21 – 11 Driffield
By now, Morpeth were starting to edge the game, and looked more confident. They worked their way up the park and into the 22 before finally being driven back to the halfway where Driffield were penalised. Fortunately for Driffield, the kick was missed.
With twenty minutes to go, and following a stoppage for treatment for the referee who was caught by a trailing arm at a maul, Driffield kicked deep into their opponent’s half where Morpeth gave away a penalty.
Robinson, now on for Robin Watts, took a quick tap and set off with one of his jinking runs trying to catch the flat defence out. He was stopped, but the defence had not retreated ten, and a further penalty was awarded.
This was kicked to the left touch on the five-yard line. The catch-and-drive was halted inches out, and Robinson took the ball, dummied the pass to the right, and wriggled through the outwitted defence to race round and score under the sticks, making an easy conversion for Watts. This brought Driffield back to a three-point deficit and the hope that they could rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Morpeth 21 – 18 Driffield
Again, the played ebbed and flowed either side of the halfway until Driffield went offside in the centres, and Morpeth converted an excellent penalty from the half-way to give them a six-point lead. Morpeth 24 – 18 Driffield
By now, Morpeth’s tails were up, they had the balance of territory, and it looked like a losing bonus point might be all that Driffield could take from the game. Eventually Driffield worked their way back into Morpeth’s half, looking for that one score that would give them the narrowest of victories.
However, Morpeth’s defence, which had barely put a foot wrong all game, repelled every attack and drove them back upfield.
With just five left on the clock, and out of nothing, one of the Morpeth centres took the ball on the halfway and broke to the left catching the defence flat-footed. He rounded them, and evaded the covering full back to go in for the try wide out. The Morpeth centre followed this up with an excellent conversion to increase the lead to thirteen. Morpeth 31 – 18 Driffield
In spite of all their efforts, Driffield were unable in the final minutes to get close to the line to rescue a losing bonus point, and lost their second league game of the season.
Summing up, this was a great contest between two sides who were well-matched on the day, and showed great discipline – not one yellow card was issued. Morpeth were just the better team on the day and were good for their win. Their defence was excellent, and they took the few chances they had in attack. Driffield had shrugged off the rustiness they showed in the previous week, but somehow lacked the spark that supporters have become used to.
That needs to be found before the coming Saturday, when Kelleythorpe sees the visit of Ilkley, the only other team to have beaten Driffield this season.
With Heath winning at Consett, Driffield drop to second in the table with a better points difference but one less win.
Report by Brad Webster