WELCOME This afternoon, with a bit of shuffling of fixtures, I am delighted to welcome to Acklam Park the first and second teams from Novos, along with many old friends, supporters and officials. It's a throwback to the 'good old days' when two teams not only travelled together to the same fixture but enjoyed the post-match celebrations too!
Novos were formed in September 1899 as Old Novocastrians Rugby Football Club by a group of former pupils of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne. The club remained for Old Boys or members of staff of the school for 70 years, until 1969, when the 'Old' was dropped and the club became open to all players.
We have a long history of competing against one another, most recently three years ago, when we each won our home fixture in closely fought matches; we won 34-30 whilst Novos won 25-17. At that season's end we finished in fifth position, Novos in 12th. Last season our visitors finished in sixth place, or, to put it another way, top of the pack chasing the dominant top five. This season they kicked off with a cup final against Northern away, losing 41-0. This was followed by their opening league fixture, at home to – Northern! The Gosforth side again triumphed, this time to the tune of 57-0. However in a home game against newly promoted Rockcliff Novos then chalked up their first win, 24-14. (Incidentally Rockcliff are our visitors next Saturday.)
LEAGUE RUGBY Two games into the new season, in a new league, and although it could have been better we're reasonably happy with events to date. It was a pretty tough initiation. I said in our earlier programme that last season in DN1 the top five clubs all scored over 1,000 points, with Durham City and West Hartlepool being promoted; we've now played two of the other three and meet the third club, Stockton, in two weeks. As I said, it is a pretty tough initiation, after which we'll have a good idea as to how our season is likely to pan out.
Our games so far were both cracking matches, a standard we hope to see continues throughout the season. I must say Westoe looked a more than useful combination at the start of our first match of the season and the first ten minutes were just a little worrying, particularly when they took a five point lead. However we scored four sparkling tries, all well-worked and great to watch. Brendan scored our first and although we were 5-12 down at half time we had the bit between our teeth; in preventing Westoe from crossing our line in the second period, when we added another three tries, from Pete, Rohan and another from Bren, we ran out 26-15 winners. Westoe selected the ever-reliable and consistent Jack McPhillips as our Man of the Match, whilst, in a fitting finale Westoe's Man of the Match went to Sam Seymour, a lovely scrum half we hope to see back at Acklam Park when his studies finish on Tyneside.
We followed this with an oh so close game at Northern, a game we so nearly won, but at least came away with a bonus point, something which evaded our hosts. There was never more than nine points difference in the match; despite being behind for much of the match a try by Bren gave us a 14-17 lead with only minutes to go. But then, on the stroke of no-side, from a line-out Northern eventually rumbled over our line to take the match. Northern took a 7-0 lead before Andy Micklewright made it 7-5; the score moved to 14-5 and then 14-12, courtesy of a Chris McRoberts/Andy Baggett combination. Under sustained pressure for periods of time, in the end it was our valiant defence that earned us that valuable bonus point.
TEAM NEWS Both our Wasps and 'A' team kicked off their CANDY league fixtures at home last week. The Wasps entertained Billingham in Division 1 and with a side somewhat changed from last season they lost 22-54 against a well-drilled side who had the edge over us in the backs. Notwithstanding Billingham's power we scored four well-taken tries to earn five points from the match. A summary of Jonno's match report is on p11, along with captain Eric 'Yorkshire' Windross's report of the 'A' team's game with West Hartlepool IIs in Division 2 South. (Why the second team of a club in N1E should be in CANDY 2 South is beyond me.) We lost the match 14-44, the team's first defeat in over 16 months, but there was some pleasing aspects which will bring better results during the season. Today the wasps are at home to Novos, whilst the 'A' team are playing Billingham IIIs away, a match which will give us a better indication of the strength of the league.
Turning to Colts rugby, hats off to Tony Linklater, who, with players of Colts age thin on the ground across the whole area, has worked his socks off to persuade, cajole and organise a combined squad with Stockton, Acklam and Redcar to play in the Durham Colts leagues. Training and matches will rotate between the clubs, It's a tremendous initiative to keep young men involved in rugby who might otherwise have given up the sport much too soon. I'm delighted to report that early feedback is extremely positive, and they won their first game at Sunderland last weekend. The score was 19-31 but of more importance was the willingness of clubs and young players to join together in this exciting initiative. See Tony's report on p4.
Our Junior teams took advantage of some improved weather to visit the seaside at Redcar; suffice to say the weather was better than the results. See p4.
CLUB NEWS Following on from the good news about Tollesby and our proposals to employ a Junior Rugby Development Officer in partnership with our major sponsors and Middlesbrough Council, as reported in our previous programme, I can report that Andy Preston, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, has visited the club to see for himself our facilities and discuss our proposals and aspirations. We will continue to keep you up to date as things move forward.
Coming up in the next month...Next Saturday is our first social event of the season – it's DARTS NIGHT! Get out those oh-so tasteful psychedelic shirts and start thinking about your entrance music! There is a modest entrance fee with a cash prize for the winner. Come on down and throw some arrows! The following Saturday we have a VALUING THE VOLUNTEER night, before we have an event rekindled after a few years - LADIES DAY on 12 October. It will start at 1pm with prosecco and afternoon tea, live entertainment and a raffle with some amazing prizes in aid of the Willow Foundation and Zoe's Place. Dress to impress and have a great day. There will be optional free access to the 1st team game against North Shields, and afterwards, players and gentlemen will be invited to join in for a convivial evening with good food and a disco/karaoke. Details are on the website and on the notice board. Two weeks later, after the Medicals game, there is a RUGBY SING SONG night. And then we're into November and our fabulous BONFIRE NIGHT.
REFEREE'S CORNER I am delighted to welcome to Acklam Park two referees this afternoon. The first team match is being supervised by Andy Hodgson, a local man from Redcar enjoying his 27th year as a referee; he has been with us on many occasions, although his last scheduled visit to us never happened – it was the double-header against Bradford Salem in March last season. Andy is a Group Manager in the motor trade. Our second official is Keith Bartlem, who is taking the Wasps game. I hope they enjoy their time with us this afternoon.