OAs finally flourish up north
Four times Albanians have travelled to the North East and this was the first occasion they had returned with league points let alone a victory
But this win was one of the most dramatic in this fascinating season.
To set the scene, the visitors had journeyed North without a recognised hooker, a worrying fact since Blaydon are known for their uncompromising tight five play. Rob Scillachi coped perfectly well at Number 2 even though the scrum was at times under pressure. The lineout was, as ever, sound throughout.
Things started well when Danny Holmes took the ball directly from the OA kickoff on the host’s 22. Lawrence Rayner, who was to have a crucial effect on the outcome, notched the simple penalty which resulted.
A’s then stole the first Blaydon lineout and maintained the pressure in their opponents’ territory.
Fifteen minutes in Andrew Baggett had the opportunity to level the scores from 40 metres. His kick drifted narrowly wide but he made no mistake from half that distance moments later, as his side took the initiative for the first time.
Albanian defence held firm for the moment on their try line but Billy Johnson was sent to the bin for holding on. One man to the good the Blaydon pushover try was well nigh inevitable. Baggett converted.
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Worse, an aimless kick ahead and some sloppy tackling allowed full back Tom Grimes some space to counterattack and although Blaydon were missing Zack Kibbirige, the fastest man in the league, winger Simon Barber had all the gas he needed to complete the move under the posts. Again Baggett obliged.
As Johnson returned Matthew Hall departed for ten minutes and Ollie Marchon sped through the gap for Rayner to convert. 17-10 at the break.
From the restart it seemed Albanian tackling still needed to improve and Blaydon tore into the visitors half. Baggett succeeded with his second penalty and improved Tommy Banks’ smart effort ten minutes in when again OA tackling was found wanting.
With his side 17 points down Marchon started the charge four minutes into the fourth quarter and again Rayner added the extras. Sam Staff then became the impact replacement of the year and with his massive power driving play forward a bonus point seemed possible. George Saunders found the gap in the corner with five minutes left and Rayner’s mighty conversion closed the gap to just three points. Almost from the restart his 45 metre penalty equalled the scores.
Still A’s advanced in the face of a tiring Blaydon and it was, fittingly, a prop, Camilo Parrili-Ocampo who charged over wide out on the left with the whistle about to end the match. Man of the match Rayner completed a perfect day.
A’s visit Doncaster for the first time on Saturday week. The Yorkshiremen have topped the league from the start but still have lost five times. Albanians have proved their forwards and backs, attack and defence can be a match for anyone in this league. If they can make all of these things happen on the same day they will again travel North in good spirit!