Johnny Bartlett outpaces the Horden defence to run in unopposed for Barnard Castle II’s first try against Horden on Saturday
Johnny Bartlett outpaces the Horden defence to run in unopposed for Barnard Castle II’s first try against Horden on Saturday

Candy League/Cup

Barnard Castle II........... 17

Horden/Peterlee II........ 22

CASTLE were also up against Horden in a league/cup final double header.

The side that had beaten Bishop Auckland so convincingly was depleted by injuries and promotions to the first team and was still being put together at mid-morning on match-day – Jake Hepper, Adam Firmin and Mick Coates stepping in at late notice to provide a substitute’s bench which otherwise would have been empty.

Castle have been playing well in recent games and despite all the changes there was a feeling that with a strong core they would remain sufficiently skilled to take the spoils on the day.

On a sunny but cool afternoon, they started well against a much larger and more mature side.

Despite missing flyhalf and skipper for much of the season Steve Holloway, scrum half Danny Winter stepped into the breach superbly well.

He mixed his passing and kicking game and along with James Barber, they continuously linked the probing forward sorties with expansive back moves.

These allowed Sam Clarke and Dan Swires in the centres make good ground time and again and feed ball to Johnny Bartlett entering incisively from fullback.

When the ball did go into touch, Lewis Wigham, at hooker, and the forwards in the lineout hoisted Jon Lucas well and the pressure on the Horden tryline was unrelenting.

Something was bound to give and following good ground made by Sam Clarke, then Matthew Raper, John McGrath and James Peareth all drove hard at the line before the ball was fed to skipper Alex Thomas who crashed over for the first score. Barber added the extras and Barney were 7-0 to the good.

Jon Lucas received the kick-off, drove up the pitch and within minutes Barney were back on the Horden 22 metre line where the visitors yielded a penalty and Barber once more was accurate with the boot.

In the run up to half time, with Horden at last having got into the Castle half, the hosts stole the ball and Winter released the backline from deep.

When the pass from Swires to Bartlett appeared to cannon off Bartlett, the Horden defence hesitated thinking it to be a knock-on.

The young referee correctly noted that the ball had, in fact, come off Bartlett’s head and therefore allowed play to continue.

Bartlett regathered the ball and immediately fed the ball to right-winger Dafydd Davies who, realising that there was a two-on-one against the Horden fullback, seared down the touchline before releasing a beautifully timed return pass, allowing Bartlett to go over untouched.

Once again Barber added the conversion and Castle were seemingly sitting pretty at 17-0 to the good at half time.

Barney obviously thought the game was won and took their foot off the gas. Horden came back hard from the restart kick and used the increasing wind and some fresh legs borrowed from the first team squad in the centres to turn the tables.

Castle now had to dig in, defend and play the percentages as and when they were available.

The loss of the referee to the first team game due to the injury of the latter seemed to unsettle Castle and their decision making and game control seemed to go badly astray from that point onwards.

Despite continuing to profit in the set scrums where they took at least three balls against the head, on the whole Barney were on the back foot for the remainder of the afternoon as Horden gradually pegged back the score until with five minutes still remaining they grabbed the final winning score.

Castle seemed unable to maintain any possession and the previously secure lineout suddenly became shambolic.

All in all it was a disappointing end to what otherwise has been a far better league season.

With nine wins from 17 played, only three sides in the league have a better record.

Huge thanks to James Croxford for stepping in and taking over as referee in such a full-blooded encounter; his first competitive adult game.

The coming week sees the second team have their last runout of the season as they take on Northallerton II in a friendly which will be reciprocated when Northallerton Vets travel to Castle the week after for the Old Boys game.

Dave Bottoms