SECOND-placed Whitby Maroons travelled to South Shields to play third-placed South Tyneside College in a clash which could yet determine whether either of the two sides wins promotion.
Despite losing influential open side Andy Grady to a hernia injury and the unavailable Joe Lenton, the Maroons still travelled with strength in depth thanks to their university players making themselves available.
On a ground where Whitby had failed to win on the past four occasions the barrier to be broken was as much psychological as physical and Maroons made a storming start to the match.
Concerted pressure led by strong drives from Coverdale and Young meant the home side conceded a penalty under the posts, duly converted by Whitby’s prolific young full back Christian Pollock. STC responded well and after a run of three penalties in a row against the Maroons for offside, they scored a good converted try to lead 7-3.
Whitby’s growing injury list got worse as Anthony Craig and influential number eight Tristan Pottas both had to leave the field permanently to be replaced by Nick Beaumont and Guy Cole.
Whitby responded well to going behind and a charge down after good effort by the forwards saw a first try for club rookie second row Dan Marsay, with Pollock adding the extras. Another Pollock penalty extended the gap, until a switch move from fly half Steve Allen saw centre Dave Staker speed onto the ball, cutting through the STC pack for a splendid individual try in the corner as Maroons led 18-7 at the break.
Maroons extended their advantage 10 minutes into the second half when centre Ollie Roberts intercepted a loose home pass on halfway and rolled back the years to sprint away, having just enough gas to hold off the covering chasers and score in the corner.
Pollock kicked his third penalty before STC, who were coming more into the game scored a converted try after Straker had been somewhat harshly penalised for a late hit.
Whitby continued to play great 15-man rugby, trying to make their superior fitness tell by stretching the game at every opportunity.
Excellent driving work from the pack, especially from replacement Jock Harrison, created an opening for the three quarters to put the speedy Guy Taylor in at the corner.
The referee dispatched a mystified Matt Russell for his usual 10 minutes in the bin and he was swiftly followed by Guy Taylor, reducing the Maroons to 13, STC also having a player removed from the field for a trip.
In a fantastically entertaining game for the neutral, STC showed they were far from finished and from an interception they raced downfield to score a converted try to reduce the deficit by seven points. Having been the dominant side, it was fitting the Maroons scored the final points of the match from a catch and drive the forwards organised a rolling maul and it was Jack Grady who controlled it at before taking his opportunity to bulldoze over.
Another tricky hurdle negotiated by the Maroons with the importance of a big competitive squad being emphasised, despite players missing and on the day injuries Whitby had enough to pull through for the win.
All players did well with no weak links, but special mention hoes to Quins’ scrum half Phil Stentiford who grew into the game and did much good defensive work allied to providing the continuity this improving side thrives on. Another immense effort by the pack with Dan Marsay having his best game yet, and Jack Grady a fantastic talisman with his exemplary tough tackling.
The backs once again looked dangerous, orchestrated by Steve Allen at 10 and led by Dave Straker at centre they are prepared to move the ball and take chances. The Maroons won this game because they had heart, fitness but also 20 quality players.
All players must realise rugby is now a squad game and the Maroons have competition for places which means attitudes to training and selection must be right. Players must be prepared to play where selected or otherwise play social rugby in the ‘Quins.
Whitby Gazette man of the match: a tie this week, Dave Straker and Jack Grady – leaders on the field who stood up to be counted and had a big influence on the game.
South Tyneside College 17 Whitby 42