By Stuart Vernon
Gallant Vale were no match for a well drilled, fit North Eastern mean machine.
Vale of Lune travelled to Blaydon to take on the hosts at their impressive Crow Trees ground without a dozen players who had played a vital role in securing promotion from North One West last season. The unavailability of such a tranche of experienced players for the opening fixture of the North Premier campaign and this was reflected in the final score line.
It was a crushing defeat for the Vale, their heaviest league loss since going down New Brighton 74-5 in March 1995 in a North Two fixture. This was far from the dream start to life in North Premier that many of the Vale faithful had wished for, in fact it turned into something of a nightmare as Blaydon systematically demolished the visitors, running in 14 tries, 11 of which were converted, on their spanking new 4G pitch in perfect conditions.
At the final whistle, with more than hint of gallows humour, one Vale supporter observed that at least they scored more points than on their last visit which resulted in a 30-11 loss in September 1997. Another crumb of comfort on a bleak day was that Blaydon’s all singing, all dancing, state of the art scoreboard had not yet been installed which would have added digitally to Vale’s woes.
Within three minutes of the kick off Blaydon rattled in a converted try and although the Vale produced a spirited response and throughout the game they adopted a positive approach, they struggled to shackle the home side’s aspirations and by half time they trailed 52-0.
Early in the second forty scrum half Charlie Lomas was ideally placed to collect his try after debutant prop, Mike Bradshaw, had surged powerfully for the line; another player on debut, Will Hunt added the conversion.
Blaydon were in no mood to have their noses tweaked, out came the whips, and in the space of nine minutes added two more converted tries. Charlie Lomas took a quick tap penalty to nip over for an unconverted try in the fifty ninth minute.
The final twenty minutes belonged to Blaydon who produced tries from almost anywhere on the pitch as they put the Vale to the sword, but Vale’s defensive efforts did receive a reward of sorts, because they prevented Blaydon from reaching the century mark.
On the day the Vale were well beaten by a side that looked composed, confident in executing a game plan that had been forged in a series of competitive pre- season games.
Despite all their selection difficulties Vale’s “old hands” put in a full shift in addition offering support for those who were new to the intensity of rugby at Level 5.
Hooker Andy Powers was named man of the match but it must have been a tough call for the Blaydon panel because Charlie Lomas, Jack Ayrton, skipper Jonty Higgin must have featured in their deliberations. Lock Harry Fellows was his usual combative self at the line out and in the loose, flanker James Robinson made a number of important big hit tackles at close quarters.
The backs had few opportunities to show their paces. Winger James Curran, after a long absence from first team duties, slipped through on a couple of occasions, Chris Ramwell had bags of energy and Harry Finan remained cool under pressure; but like their fellow forwards the threequarters defensive attributes received a severe examination.
Back in the mists of time Blaydon used to play at the historic Racecourse and although those wide open spaces have long since disappeared they looked at home on their new pitch. They raced away from the Vale inside the first furlong to please their supporters who had been promised exciting rugby which would bring back the smiles to their faces for the coming season. Not a bad start then.
Since the Vale’s last visit Blaydon have expanded, and are very much a club of the modern era with excellent clubhouse facilities, a fully refurbished fitness centre in the complex, and it is still holds its immensely popular, twice weekly, car boot sales. Alas for the Vale there were no bargains to be had, the bonus point attic was empty and there was some relief when the gavel thumped down for the last time.
All eyes will be on the Vale on Saturday, not only will it be the ever popular Ladies Day, when they entertain Wilmslow, but hopefully some of the more experienced players will be back in harness and the Vale will be able to don their glad rags, strut their stuff and send the Prosecco corks popping.