With Paddy recuperating from the dreaded virus (get well soon Paddy!), Spud has asked me to do a match report for the game against Ashington, and so I have.
After a horrible rainy morning, the Gateshead management team had to earn their considerable salaries with some major team reshuffling, losing both Skiddy and Surrey to injuries in the warm up This meant that Kai Leeke and Stephen Anderson had to move from their comfy positions in the stands with a pint, on to the bench.
In to the starting 15 came Si Schofield, for a 1st team starting debut, and Adam Hill coming in to the front row with Hastie moving to 8. Easy as that.
Gateshead started strongly, with Harvey Lyons scorching down the wing for a cracking first try after about 3 minutes. Unfortunately the rest of the first half didn’t follow the same pattern.
Ashington came with a big strong pack who made a lot of ground whenever they ran at us, we were really struggling to get any continuity when we managed to get the ball off them. We had good quality players throughout the team, but they hadn’t played a lot together recently and to be honest it showed. When we did get some phases together we looked good, but it didn’t happen often enough. Ashington pressure told, scoring a couple of times and we went in at the break deservedly 19-5 down.
Strong words were needed at half time. Everyone knew that an improvement was needed in all areas in the second half if we were to have a chance of getting anything out of the game.
After the break the lads looked like they were really up for it. We were putting together more structured play and Ashington were visibly tiring, their ball carriers starting to pay the price for the first half efforts. A few half breaks on the outside from our wingers Harvey and Si nearly brought the breakthrough, only for dropped balls and marginal forward passes to scupper us when a try looked on.
Eventually Adam Ridley cleverly scored after cutting back in as Ashington’s defence were sliding across hoping to stop the ball going wide. He broke a couple of tackles and scored under the posts for a cracking try. Adam was one of the more experienced players in the back line on the day and his intelligence and maturity were certainly evident in this score.
Soon after Tyler Hepple crashed through a couple of tackles of his own. The pass looked on, but instead he had the confidence to back himself and paid off, another try under the posts and we were within a score. Game on! Tyler hadn’t had loads of chances with ball in hand to that point, and I think the Ashington back may have underestimated just how strong a carrier he can be. I believe this was his league debut, but he looked comfortable and deserved his try.
Ashington weren’t finished though and come back to score one of their own and extend the lead.
At this point it would have been very easy for the lads to chuck the towel in. They’d worked so hard to get themselves back into the game, only for Ashington to come back and pull away again, but they’ve learned some lessons from previous games this year and some sustained pressure saw Si Schofield power over in the corner. He’d been a class act all game, and was another league debutant who deserved his try. Unfortunately, he’s a very, very old man, and the act of scoring was too much for his old man body. As he raised his old man arm in celebration it seized up and that was it for him.
The bench was emptied, with Matt, Kai and Stephen coming on to add their weight to the cause, but Ashington seemed to get a second wind scored again restore the lead.
Gateshead came back though, and were awarded a kickable penalty. We were 6 point behind at this point and although it was a tricky decision, but I’d guess 99% of those in attendance though kicking for the corner and going for the try was the call to make.
However, the 1% was in charge of making the decision and went for the 3 points. It went over and it was a 3 point game. All to play for (again!).
Gateshead had about 5 minutes left to go for the win. A policy of all out attack was implemented, but Ashington saw it coming, and a sucker punch try down the left from their prop meant the game was all but over. We were 8 points behind again, with about 2 mins to play. It was a bridge too far and that’s how it ended. 38-30, we missed out aon a losing point, but got one for 4 try’s. More than we looked like getting at half time, but ultimately less than we could have come away with.
A word for a few players. Matty ‘Human Wrecking Ball’ Etherington was a force of nature, proving almost impossible for Ashington to stop without committing at least 3 to the tackle. His display over his first 80 minutes for a number of years was immense and he was deservedly MOM. A bit of effort in training and he’ll be unstoppable.
Kai and Stephen coming on to the bench at 5 minutes notice was hugely appreciated and speaks to their commitment to the club. Kai especially came on for a debut and made some very telling contributions, while Stephen was the class act we all know he is when he gets the ball in space.
‘Mr 1%’, Ross Craig lead from the front as captain (as he always does). He was instrumental in inspiring our comeback, and while his decision to go for points was questionable, on a different day he may have been proven right. It’s almost a given that he has a good game these days, but his consistency is impressive.
The back row also deserve a mention. They ran themselves in to the ground and Brandon, Luke and Hastie, as well as Kai when he came on were key in the second half turn around.
Everyone should be proud of their contributions. If we can take the positives and fighting spirit from the second half into the rest of the season, we will be a force to contend with in this league. We can beat anyone, and hopefully that period against one of the better teams in the league will give us some confidence. We just need to do it for more than 40 minutes! Special well done also to the league debutants Kai, Si, and Tyler, who were all amongst our better players on the day.
Lastly, I need to mention the pre-game minutes silence for one of our own, Jezz Thomas. Jezz was a kid who never gave up on the rugby pitch or in life, he was such a positive lad, and we will miss him immensely around the club. Jezz never cared how big his opposite number was, he threw himself into the game with the same unbridled enthusiasm he always had, and he took that enthusiasm and positivity with him into the club afterwards too. A true Gateshead Legend, we’ll all miss you Jezz mate.