With another season of North East rugby done and dusted, Scrum Down celebrates the good, the bad, the funny and even the tasty, as we dish out our annual ‘Scrummies’.
GAME OF THE SEASON
No need to engage the long-term memory on this one, Darlington Mowden Park having won the battle but not the war when they hosted Macclesfield at the Northern Echo Arena on April 26.
A crowd of 3,750 were there to see them beat the National Two North leaders 28-24, crossing for the four-try bonus point which looked like sealing their automatic promotion into National One.
In an unbelievable finish and with fingernails long since bitten, Macclesfield’s last-minute try handed them their pair of bonus points which snatched the league title. Mowden were forced to do it all again the following week in a similarly tense extra-time play-off to seal their promotion.
SIGNING OF THE SEASON
Excitement had been in short supply for Newcastle Falcons fans until the December arrival of Sinoti Sinoti, the Samoan winger so good they named him twice.
Joking that his dad must have been drunk at the hospital when asked the origin of his name, the former Toulon man was described as a ‘Tasmanian Devil’ by director of rugby Dean Richards for the hot-stepping footwork which has seen him beating defenders by the dozen.
Now signed up on a new two-year deal, the wide-man is already installed as a firm favourite by the Kingston Park faithful.
TRIP OF THE SEASON
The Amlin Challenge Cup has taken Newcastle Falcons to Bucharest, Brive and Calvisano, but it is to pre-season I turn for my stand-out winner when they tackled Premiership rivals Bath in the French town of Beziers.
The game coincided with the ‘Feria’ festival, which I quickly discovered was a heady mixture of bullfighting, imbibing and flamenco music which attracts more than a million visitors.
Having to fly to Barcelona before taking my life in my own hands on a creeking train-ride over the Pyrenees, temperatures in excess of 35 degrees greeted the teams for an entertaining draw despite a 9pm kick-off.
Unfortunately, sky-high plane prices meant a four-day stay worked out cheaper than a quickfire visit for yours truly. Tough work, but someone has got to do it!
TRY OF THE SEASON
He might have been wearing the red rose of England Under-20s when he did it, but Newcastle Falcons wing Zach Kibirige was playing on his home ground of Kingston Park when he scored one of the finest individual tries ever to grace the stadium.
Collecting the ball inside his own 22, the Yarm flyer beat two Wales tacklers with a swing of the hips, sped past a further three and then swatted away the full-back like he was a fly landing on his ice-cream. The Sky cameras were there to capture it, and Kibirige’s solo score attracted more than 40,000 YouTube views within the first two days of being posted online.
SHOCKER OF THE SEASON
For those of a Newcastle Falcons persuasion there are almost too many to choose from, but the first half down at London Irish on April 13 still brings me out in a cold sweat.
In more than 15 years of following the club I am yet to see a more inept and disjointed performance, Newcastle shipping six tries before half-time as the Exiles picked them off at will.
Former Falcon Andy Fenby rubbed salt in the wound with a hat-trick of tries, director of rugby Dean Richards at least having the good sense to label the first 40 minutes as “disgraceful” and “the worst half of rugby I have seen, probably ever.” What was even more bizarre was the fact that, after a whirlwind first half, neither team managed to score a single point in the final 40!
QUOTES OF THE SEASON
“He was playing his 100th game for the club, he scored two tries and I’ll bet he’s on a promise when he gets home tonight!”
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards on No 8 Mark Wilson, who marked his century of appearances with a man-of-the-match performance against Newport Gwent Dragons in December’s LV= Cup drubbing. Coincidentally, Wilson’s partner is now expecting a baby in September. Short odds on ‘Dean’ if it’s a lad!
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
He turns up every week and quietly goes about his business, but those who know their stuff would want him alongside them.
We are talking about Blaydon lock Chris Wearmouth, the Weardale farmer who is Durham’s County captain and helped steer his club side to a sixth-placed finish in National One this term.
Somewhat of a prolific try-scorer given his front-five position, this lump of a lad was named man-of-the-match for England Counties when more than 4,000 flocked to Darlington Mowden Park to watch them in action against the Ireland Club XV.
Those running him close on the local scene are Tynedale lock Andy Buist, making a successful return to the game following three years out injured, and Darlington Mowden Park Zylon McGaffin for the precious tries which helped seal their promotion.
SCRAN OF THE SEASON
The most coveted gong of the season went right down to the wire, with London Wasps a late entry thanks to their steak and ale pie on the first weekend of May.
But we go back to January for our prize-winner, Saracens’ peppered-steak pie clinching the prize for both aesthetics and tonsil-tingling. Branded with a tasteful club crest in pastry form, it is the standard to which all other Premiership pies must aspire.
Running them close were the chicken, ham and leek pies at Bath, and the paprika-laden sausages in Bucharest. A minor quantity misjudgement and some pidgin Romanian may have led to me buying a truck-load instead of a handful, but one just has to eat one’s way through such problems!
COACH OF THE SEASON
A sixth-placed finish might not grab too many headlines, but Micky Ward has once again shown he is management material with an astute campaign as director of rugby.
Combining his Crow Trees role with front-row coaching duties at Newcastle Falcons and a consultancy role at Championship contenders Rotherham, the Wallsend icon is a coach on the up.
Quotable to the Press, respected by his players and crucially making a difference on the field, Blaydon are in safe hands with Ward at the helm.
CONVERSION OF THE SEASON
No, this is not an award for place-kicks, although if it was then Joel Hodgson’s touchline effort for a second bonus point at Gloucester would win it hands down.
No, this one has been specially created to mark the outstanding manner in which Newcastle Falcons hooker Rob Vickers has morphed into one of the most effective loose-head props in the Premiership.
It might only be one shirt number and one place removed from his previous berth but, make no mistake, this is like turning Fabricio Coloccini into a 20-goal-a-season centre-forward. That Vickers has been such a success in his new role is a tribute to his work ethic and appetite to learn, as well as the long-term thinking of the Falcons’ management.
PERSISTENCE OF THE SEASON
If at first you don’t succeed, have a look at Northumberland Under-20s.
Beaten by Yorkshire in their first group game this season, they went a try down to the favourites at Twickenham in the final of the County Championship nine days ago.
Rather than simply folding against more physical opposition they sucked it up and rose to the big occasion, hammering the white-rose men to win their medal match 39-10.
Later revealing a talk from Newcastle Falcons boss Dean Richards about handling the big occasion – whatever he said, it worked.