Stags charge to cup victory

Morpeth Stags with the Northumberland Junior Challenge trophy. Photo by Keith Robertson.
Morpeth Stags with the Northumberland Junior Challenge trophy. Photo by Keith Robertson.
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Morpeth Stags 18 Medicals Serpents 13 Northumberland Junior Challenge Shield Final

THE Morpeth Stags were victorious in their version of the county cup at the weekend, and defeating a younger, fitter side after extra time only made the victory sweeter.

Playing against the breeze in the first half at the final venue of Seghill, the Stags were quickly behind when the impressive Medicals stand-off knocked over a penalty. He kept the students on the front foot with some astute tactical kicking, but the Stags defence was resolute and good field position did not equate to points.

The strong Dale was ruling the line-out and the Stags front five had the students in all sorts of bother in the scrum for the whole game. Oakey in particular put in a huge shift at loose head and drove his opponent back relentlessly. Adopting a picking and driving game brought yardage, but no points as the old failing of going a yard too far and becoming isolated haunted the Stags.

The first points for the Mitford Road men came after a Dale made a charging run into the Medicals defence to set up a scrum. The students were penalised at three consecutive scrums, with skipper Lightley opting to apply the pressure at the scrums rather than kicking for goal or touch.

The referee lost patience with the students and sin- binned their hooker. The man advantage allowed the Stags to run the ball wide rather than hitting up into the 10/12 channel, giving Cox the chance to snake over wide on the left for a 5-3 lead.

It was then the turn of Medicals to have a period of pressure which saw them win a series of penalties for not rolling away in the tackle and if truth be told, the Stags could consider themselves lucky not to have had someone binned. As it was, a brief lapse in concentration allowed a Medicals forward to crash over from close range for a converted score, putting the students ahead 5-10.

The evergreen Dungait was forced to withdraw just before half time with a recurrence of an injury and was replaced by Murphy, giving the Stags midfield a very youthful look in the centres and upping the responsibility on the shoulders of Owens at 10 to call the plays.

He responded in the second period with a deft chip over the on-rushing Medicals back line. The ball sat up for Liam Scott to scoop up and charge over to tie the scores at 10-10.

Some fluent handling from deep set Murphy to break away on what looked like a scorching run, however he was denied by a last-ditch tackle.

The momentum was firmly with the Stags and when the Medicals were penalised for not rolling away, Lightley, before having to leave the field injured, asked Cox to kick for goal. The winger held his nerve to extend the lead to 13-10.

As the clock ran down, Medicals applied some pressure and it was some strong last-ditch tackles from Scott that kept Morpeth ahead. The Medicals were not to be denied, however, and kicked a penalty with seconds remaining to take the tie into extra time.

Instead of wilting in the added time, the Stags pushed on, Scott again proved to be a thorn in the students’ side, handing off opponent after opponent in a forceful run.

The deciding score, however, had a familiar feel. Dale made the initial surge from the base and linked with Norris, his perfectly-timed pass sent Cowans screaming up the touchline who had the awareness to pass inside and find Murphy on a great supporting line and he outsprinted the cover for an excellent score.

The forward domination the Stags had enjoyed all afternoon allowed them to run the clock down and claim the win to the delight of the vocal supporters from Mitford Road.

Morpeth Squad: S Oxley, A Cowans, L Scott, J Dungait, S Cox, D Owens, A Norris, C Oakey, D Chattaway, B Lightley, M Watson, G Thow, M Bone, S Rank, B Dale. Subs, S Parsons, D Rutherford, B Burville, J Price, T Woolhead, P Murphy.