Darlington Mowden Park 24 Preston Grasshoppers 11
On a bitterly cold afternoon in the North East, Hoppers succumbed to a powerful Darlington Mowden Park team.
Right from the start, the home side showed the physicality of their forwards, with a 15m driving maul setting up a number of darting runs from their backs.
Only some fantastic last-ditch tackling from Hoppers prevented an early try.
Inevitably the pressure told as in the sixth minute No.8 Van Den Dries powered over in the corner. The tough conversion by fly-half Cannon made it 7-0
Mowden were looking the better team and added to their lead when flanker Allcock scored after a catch and drive from a five-metre lineout.
The conversion was missed but the home team were well in control at 12-0 up.
Hoppers, however, were not going down without a fight and started to compete hard at the breakdown, frustrating their opponents and forcing them to concede possession.
Even with the Mowden scrum dominating, Hoppers scored the next points, with a Lloyd Davies penalty, to reduce the deficit.
Even with the treacherous conditions underfoot, immense scrimmaging from Mowden caused the Hoppers scrum to concede possession and winger McCartney went over for the home side’s third try.
The tide seemed to turn as first Doneghan and then Den Vries were sin-binned in the last five minutes of the first half – adding a Davies penalty, and Hoppers were 17-6 down at the break with a two-man advantage.
Coming out after half-time with real intent, Hoppers looked to exploit their numerical advantage both at the scrum and out wide, and dominated territory in the first ten minutes of the second half.
Unfortunately Ally Murray was sin-binned after 50 minutes for interfering with the ball as Mowden Park looked to take a quick penalty.
In what was a fragmented second half, thanks in no small part to the meticulous nature of the referee, Hoppers scored through captain Dom Moon after a well-executed catch and drive to reduce the gap to six points.
Mowden Park had the last laugh, however, with their own catch and drive leading to a try for McGaffin and the 24-11 victory.
Coach Michael Lough was positive despite the defeat. He said: “We allowed them perhaps too much possession in the first 15 or 20 minutes but afterwards we fronted up, started to keep more of the ball.
“Unfortunately we just didn’t quite get over the line.”
Hoppers: Taylor, Birchall, Baines, Ward, Kendall, Davies, Aikman; Madden, Mills, Altham, Wallbank, Murray, Wallace, Webster, Moon (capt). Replacements: Mawdsley, Irving, Morton, Lees, White
Try: Moon (64); Penalties: Davies (27,39)
Darlington Mowden Park: McTurk, McKenzie, Mitchell (capt), Peace, McCartney, Connon, Smith; Appelby, Doneghan, Bayford, Vaioleti, Campbell, Duff, Allcock, Van Den Dries. Replacements: Simpson, White, Hodgson, Johnson, McGaffin
Tries: Van Den Dries (6), Allcock (14), McCartney (32), McGaffin (74); Conversions: Cannon (7,74)
Referee: Veryan Boscawen
Star Man: Sam Wallbank