LOST IN THE FOREST
Northumberland Seniors Men's participation in this season's Bill Beaumont Cup came to an end on Saturday 21st May following a trip to Leicester Forest RFC to play Leicestershire. For the second game running Northumberland were forced to make some late changes to their starting fifteen with captain Keith Laughlin ruled out with a shoulder injury and goal kicker Rhodri Adamson out through illness.
The opening period saw Northumberland put themselves under pressure conceding a penalty from the kick off through players straying offside at the breakdown - a pattern that both sides seemed to adopt throughout the game. However, five minutes into the match and Northumberland had a great chance to take the lead following some fluent movement through the backs only for the last lunge at the try line to be held up. From the resultant scrum, a penalty to Leicestershire and they cleared their lines. The home side then progressed upfield and it became clear that their front five were becoming a dominant force not just in the set piece but also in the loose. Northumberland were finding it difficult to gain any clear possession with the Leicestershire forwards hitting the rucks and mauls at speed and with controlled aggression. On twelve minutes the Leicestershire pack earned themselves a 5 metre scrum at which Northumberland were penalised. Another scrum followed by another penalty followed by another scrum. It was no surprise that the pressure told and Leicestershire pushed over to score, though there was doubt in the referee's mind as to the grounding but his assistant referee from 35 metres away confirmed the grounding of the ball. Conversion successful and after sixteen minutes Leicestershire led 7-0.
The remainder of the half was somewhat of a curate's egg for Northumberland. Good play in the middle third of the pitch saw them several times have attacking situations on or around the Leicestershire 22 that came to nothing. On 30 minutes one of these attacking moves looked like Northumberland would score but a spilled ball 5 metres out turned over possession to the opposition. The only other thing of note in this first half was a yellow card for Northumberland's centre for a deliberate knock on five minutes before the end of the first period.
The second half began with Leicestershire seeking to take advantage of Northumberland being a man down but to no avail thanks to some sterling defensive work. However, just after Northumberland had been restored to a full complement Leicestershire did score. Again, there was an element of doubt with many spectators of both sides convinced that the final pass had been forward but as they say, referee's decision is final and so Leicestershire went 12-0 ahead with 35 minutes to play.
Northumberland were definitely the most enterprising, trying to bring their more skilful backs into play but frequently the broken nature of such tactics meant smaller players were faced with having to move around slower larger forwards. The first opposition man was often beaten and frequently the second but then space became limited and progress halted. One plus note was the fact that the Northumberland scrum came back strongly, more than holding their own and being rewarded with well earned penalties. However, still no score for the away side and even when Leicestershire were down to 14 men following a yellow card for repeated offences Northumberland could not put the finishing touch to any of their moves.
This season's campaign began with a new coaching team in place, positive moves to involve players from all Clubs and levels in the County that has resulted in a squad that strongly wants to play representative County rugby in the way that head coach James Pontin wants it to be played. Northumberland may not have progressed through to the final but the experience of this season will hold them in good stead. The enthusiasm of all is clearly apparent and the desire for success can be a great motivator.