Rosslyn Park lost 37-23 at home to Tynedale on Saturday as their National One promotion push hit the buffers.
Despite fielding similar personnel, this was not the Park team that performed so heroically at Jersey the previous weekend.
Perhaps the physical and emotional toll of that supreme effort taxed Park’s part-timers more than was obvious at the time, because the tank looked decidedly empty here.
The afternoon started well enough for the home side. Playing into the teeth of a strong blustery wind, they soon won a penalty, which was kicked to touch but they were unable to profit.
However, they soon won another penalty, this time in front of the posts, for Ross Laidlaw to put them 3-0 ahead on 10 minutes.
Two minutes later Tynedale fly half Gavin Beasley equalised with a penalty of his own, but despite the wind Park looked the better side with some incisive attacking play.
A John Rudd run through the middle was stopped but Park were able to spin the ball wide and Steve Parsons ran in a good try for 8-3 on 21 minutes. Laidlaw’s conversion attempt looked right on target until blown off course.
Park were immediately back at the opposition and Tynedale forced to resort to extra-legal methods, resulting in the loss of flanker Grant Beasley to the sin bin.
Park tried to press home their consequent advantage but obdurate defence saw them claim only a Laidlaw penalty towards the end of Beasley’s “sentence”, which increased the lead to 11-3.
Despite having the worst of the elements, Park looked in no trouble and put together some good attacks, eventually seeing flanker Joe Trayfoot go in for a try out wide. Such was the influence of the wind, however, that a kicker of Laidlaw’s pedigree simply could not reach the posts.
With the last move of the match Tynedale had a really concentrated attack, finally spreading the ball for number 8 Sam Shires to gallop over, his score making it 16-8 at the interval.
With Park about to enjoy the apparent advantage of conditions in the second half, it looked more like a death rattle than a warning. Which shows how wrong you can be.
Tynedale were now forced to play close-contact “up your jumper” stuff, and proved very good at it.
Park kicked off deep into visiting territory, which was the last they saw of the ball. A succession of pick-and-drives and close passes saw Tynedale work the ball to half way, where they won a penalty, kicked to touch and drove over courtesy of prop David Dickinson, leaving Park to kick off again at 16-13.
Tynedale’s ball retention was superb, and whatever latent threat Park’s backs might have presented was rendered ineffective without the ball.
Again, Tynedale made steady progress into the home 22 where they won a penalty, and a quick-witted tap saw full-back Hamish Smales go in by the posts to give his side the lead for the first time, Beasley’s conversion making it 16-20.
If that looked bad for Park, worse was to come four minutes later when Tynedale mounted a super attack up their left past a couple of tired tackles and quickly flashed the ball across for winger Peter Cole to claim a good try for 16-25, and bring up the four-try bonus.
Park were still unable to wrest any worthwhile possession from their eager opponents, who were supplying a text book lesson on how to prevail with a limited game in these particular conditions.
Back in the home 22, they were again rewarded with a penalty, kicked to touch. The drive that took lock Richard Boyle over seemed a tad too easy for the comfort of home supporters. Beasley’s conversion brought up 16-32 with 20 minutes remaining.
Park really did try to pull it back. A good move took them to the visitors’ line but, just as a score looked likely, they were frustrated by conceding a penalty.
Back they came and were rewarded with a penalty just outside the 22. Laidlaw hammered it to touch and Park drove over, prop Lorne Ward the scorer. Laidlaw’s conversion left them to score 10 points with 12 minutes remaining in order to turn things round.
Park gave it their best shot, immediately returning to the attack, forcing a further penalty, again hoofed to touch. Camped on the line, all things looked possible as Tynedale defended desperately but, again, as they sought to probe for another opening they conceded a penalty.
Tynedale managed to work the ball to the Rosslyn Park 22 for the final proof that somehow the Rugby Gods had been offended. It would have been bad enough for a defender to have knocked on, but for the ball to conveniently fall to visiting lock Boyle to allow him to lope in for his second try seemed somehow a bit too cruel.
At 23-37 Park’s goose was not so much cooked as completely frazzled.
Playing for pride alone, Park managed a last incursion into the Tynedale 22 but when the visitors secured the ball they had no hesitation in wellying it out over their own goal line to bring a win they probably did not anticipate.
It would be wrong to be too harsh on Park (though the coaches may prove an exception here). It was a tired looking performance, but those who followed them to Jersey may well endorse the fact that it was at least understandable.
Park: Edwards; Rudd, Parsons, Gower (Robinson), Mantella; Laidlaw; Barr; Ovens, Gotting, Ward (Huggett); Pape (McKeen), Anderson; Trayfoot, Rowland, Lock.
Sub (did not play): Richmond, Baxter.
Park scorers: Parsons (T), Trayfoot (T), Ward (T), Laidlaw (2P, C).