Dale travelled north to Blaydon for their first pre-season warm-up match seeking to defend the Baggett Trophy in front of Andy Baggett and his family, but it was not to be. A rather hesitant and disjointed performance against a direct and aggressive home side led to a 34-24 defeat.
Dale started brightly with a delightful pass from Will Edwards putting Ryan Hodgson free down the left touchline but the defence were able to cover and Blaydon counter-attacked up the middle, with Dale penalised at the breakdown which allowed Blaydon to kick deep for a line-out in Dale’s 22. Dale were penalised again for stopping the catch and drive illegally and resisted some strong pressure on their line before eventually breaking out with a midfield step by Oli Cicognini, supported by Dan Stockdale and Chris Walker and the ball moved out to the right for Ralph Wellock to cross in the corner for a 5-0 lead.
The next 15 minutes were largely Blaydon’s with a couple of weak clearance kicks not finding touch and allowing Blaydon to keep Dale under pressure. From one attempted clearance, Blaydon ran hard up the middle for full back James Cooney to score under the posts for a 7-5 lead at the first drinks break. In part due to the extremely hot conditions, the teams had agreed to play effectively 4 x 20 minute periods. Things did not really improve in the second 20 as first no 8 Harry Borthwick, then flanker Robert Lenderyou, and finally man of the match Ryan Foreman added further scores for Blaydon for a 24-5 half-time lead. Blaydon were generally more aggressive at the rucks, their running was direct and support play good and, without the ball, their line speed put a hesitant Dale midfield under pressure. Dale were also struggling to adjust to referee Gavin Jones’ interpretation at the break-down which further disrupted any attempt to build momentum.
After some stern words from the coaches, the opening minutes of the second half were all Dale. First, Tom Mann made a superb break up the middle to within 5m of the try-line and the ball was recycled out to the left for the impressive Ryan Hodgson to score in the corner; four minutes later the forwards broke up the middle, Blaydon’s cover defence was penalised and from a 5m line-out, the pack drove over the line with another of last year’s fine crop of Colts, Madison Hunting, claiming the try. At 24-17, Dale were back in the game and seemed to have the momentum but, from the kick-off, Blaydon tackled aggressively, won a turnover and put Frazer Wilson over in the corner for a try superbly converted from the touchline by Foreman. From this point on the game rather went downhill with Matt Beesley yellow-carded for a no arms tackle and the players’ frustrations leading to a couple of off the ball incidents and further yellow cards for Rob Baldwin and a Blaydon player. When Sam Booker was penalised for a high tackle with 10 minutes to go, Blaydon’s Jordan Kerry took the opportunity to kick the penalty for a 17 point lead. There was still time for Hunting to break through the defence and put Dale on the attack; when Blaydon were penalised at a 5m scrum, Dale chose to reset and powered over for a penalty try as the Blaydon scrum buckled against a front row of Beesley, Hunting and Jack Hirst backed up by some serious engine room power in Jim Mason and Sam Booker.
Despite the final 34-24 scoreline and the understandable lack of cohesion from using 28 players over the 80 minutes, the coaches drew a number of positives from the match. Newcomer Matt Speres had an excellent game in the loose and will clearly have a role to play over the season; fellow newcomer Adam Williamson gave a solid performance in the centre and the four members of last season’s Colts (Ryan Hodgson, Owen Bullock, Henry Macnab and the irrepressible Madison Hunting) all demonstrated their considerable promise. The mood remains upbeat and the squad are looking forward to the bigger challenge of Rotherham next week.
Starting XV: 15 R Hodgson; 14 Wellock; 13 H Bullough; 12 Edwards; 11 Cicognini; 10 Mann; 9 Gaudie; 1 Beesley; 2 Stockdale; 3 Hirst; 4 Stockton; 5 Hedgley; 6 Taylor; 7 Walker; 8 Houghton.
Replacements (all used): Hamilton, Bullock, Williamson; R Macnab; H Macnab: Lawn; Booker; Asejevs; J Jackson; Speres; Hunting; Mason; Baldwin.