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Local Rugby Union: Second-half fight back just not enough

MIDDLESBROUGH  36  – 22 BEVERLEY (Saturday February 24)

Over the years Beverley have seldom had much success at Acklam Park and this was no exception.  A catalogue of errors, missed tackles and conceded penalties left them trailing 22-5 at halftime.  It was not a great start to the game, leaving them with a big hill to climb and in the end it proved just unattainable, despite a splendid second-half effort which got them to within striking distance of taking the lead.

The first quarter of an hour seemed to be little more than a relentless stream of penalties awarded against Beverley in their own 22.  For some time it looked ominously likely that the Beavers were in for a second successive dismal week of incessant whistle blowing.

It seemed inevitable that Middlesbrough would capitalise but Beverley somehow held out and a remarkable 50 metre clearance kick to touch by Phil Duboulay from a tight angle eventually got play into enemy territory.  Sadly from the resulting line-out throw, which from the touchline looked anything but straight, Middlesbrough swept the ball across field to left-wing Shaun Moloney who sprinted clear from half-way for the game’s first try.

Beverley’s response was immediate.  Direct from the restart Jack Garvin got away down the right and Luke Hazell was on hand to touch down to level the scores.  But Middlesbrough, despite a good deal of suspect handling, had pacy backs who continued to pose the greater threat.

They ran strongly at the Beverley defence, which frequently threatened to buckle.  At least the penalty count began to dry up, although home fly-half Andrew Baggett did kick another to increase the lead to 8-5.

Beverley began to look a bit more up for it as the half progressed, but two converted tries on the stoke of half-time by scrum half Conor Foley and number eight Euan Tremlett took Middlesbrough well clear at 22-5.

Beverley faced an uphill struggle in the second half when they set off not only with a 17 point deficit but also facing the stiff breeze.  But straight from the kick-off they played with far greater intensity and took the game to their opponents.  However, things got worse before they got better … a loose pass in midfield let Middlesbrough in again and centre Peter Homan raced away to stretch the home lead to 22 points.

But Beverley were not to be denied.  The handling in the backs was sharper than Middlesbrough’s and they put together some crisp moves without managing to break the home defence.  Perhaps a bit too often the ball was turned back inside, leaving Garvin and Hazell, their two most potent attackers, uninvolved out wide.

Nonetheless the side did begin to claw its way back admirably.  Despite a second Baggett penalty for Middlesbrough Hazell, with a clean break on the 22, crossed for a try which Duboulay converted; Jack Houseman touched down following a forward drive; and then Hazell, slipping out of numerous tackles, went over for his third try.

30-22 with ten minutes to go and Beverley were right back in it.  Moreover they were completely on top and the home side were now beginning to hang on.  Alfie Hart-Fisher was enjoying an impressive second half, making good ground at blind-side and the pack as a whole was giving it everything.

Another determined attack in the home 22 with five minutes to go looked certain to bring another score but the ball was knocked on in midfield.  It proved to be the end of Beverley’s hopes as Middlesbrough cleared from the resulting scrum and the game petered out with Baggett kicking two more penalties in the dying minutes.

It was a disappointing result for Beverley but this was always going to be a tough fixture against opponents also in the little group pulling away at the top of Yorkshire One.  Happily it was something of a free game, being merely a match Beverley had in hand.  At least they got a four try bonus point and still remain nicely situated in second place.