Saturday saw 3TM play their 4t league game of the season with a visit to Bishop Auckland 2's. As Captain Craig Tennent had mentioned in his you tube interview earlier in the week this was one of the teams we needed to target for victory both home and away to make a successful season so the squad was going their filled with determination and with confidence high after the past 2 weeks victories.
The squad was however much changed with key figures such as Jonny Durnion and Daniel Sanderson away with work, Lee Simpson nursing a hamstring injury and a number of players, Including captain Tombie moving up to the 2nds to fill the void left by 1st team unavailability.
Things were made worse during warm up when returning vet Steve Hutch twisted an ankle putting him out of the game and leaving only 1 viable front row replacement.
From the kick off it was clear this was going to be a battle, Billingham appearing from the early exchanges to have the superior skill set however the Bishop brand of 1 up rugby and the big ball carriers, especially the inside centre was going to be a test.
The 1st quarter of the game was scoreless although 3TM had 2 or 3 chances to take the lead, only for the last pass to go astray or the wrong choice made meaning the Bishop line remained unbreeched.
After 25 minutes it was 3TM who took the lead, a scrum, dead centre, just inside the 22 was won well by the dominant Billingham pack, the ball was shifted to the right wing where the powerful Phil Crawford beat 2 defenders to run in with Carl Robinson slotting the extras.
Bishop were spurred and Billingham found themselves pegged into their half for the next few minutes, good defence saw a line out forced on our own 22, Ball won in the air by Paul Bates and it was quickly shifted along the line well, last man in the line was again Phil Crawford on our own 22 and the Bishop defence had no answer to his power and pace, fending and stepping all the way to the line, With Carl Robinson again converting 0 - 14.
As the half came to an end Bishop were spurred and finished the half with an unconverted score of their own for 5 - 14 at half time.
Into the 2nd half and with the late score from the home team they were full of confidence however it was 3TM to strike next, A fantastic high short kick off saw Billingham retain possession and set up a good platform, a number of forward drives took us to the 5 metre where livewire scrum half Nic Winstanley saw the gap from the back of the ruck and carried the would be tackler over the line, this time the kick was mis judged and was toe poked under the bar 5 - 19.
The next 30 minutes were a stalemate as tiredness started to creep in however the Billingham defence was standing firm with Anthony Kelsey and Shaun Daniels leading the tackle count, something eventually had to give and on 72 minutes Bishop went over for their 2nd score, this time unconverted 12 - 19
With the difference now only 1 score Billingham got their determination back and after a quick penalty Shaun Daniels broke a number of tackles to get us on the front foot, quick ball to Ben Elgie saw him race in from the 22 to give daylight and with the extra 2 again going over 12 - 26.
Bishop were now out on their feet and Billingham could smell blood (literally) with a couple of minutes left on the clock Carl Robinson with ball in hand saw the gap behind, chipping over he then hacked forward his own chase and managed to touch down just before the ball went dead, the extras being the last act of the match bringing the final score to 12 - 33.
Special mentions need to go to Carl Smith who was outstanding all game and also to Rob Hamer, playing his first competitive match in a long while managed to last the full 80 and never took a backwards step.
So 4 weeks into the season and people ask if it was the right decision to move to the candy league, well all you need to do is look at the table - played 4, won 3 lost 1 with maximum bonus points in all 3 wins, I think that says it all!!!
Next week is free and as there are a few injuries being nursed it will be for squad bonding before returning on the 19th in county cup action