Yorkshire Division Two: Old Grovians 13 Northallerton 20

THIS was one of those 'what if?' games.

What if Old Grovians hadn't lost winger Martyn Mitchell (shoulder) and centre Anthony Griffin (neck) injured in the first half?

What if referee Scott Houghton-Richards had spotted that Northallerton centre James Hopkins had knocked on in the act of scoring their first try in the eighth minute?

What if visiting winger Ben James' try late on been ruled out when he flirted with both the touchline and the corner flag?

What if Northallerton had been handed one or even two yellow cards for conceding seven penalties in their 22 in a five-minute spell in the second half?

What if the referee had allowed Old Grovians to continue a breakaway attack late on after a quick line-out, rather than pulling play back?

However, the top and bottom of it was that the visitors adapted better to the conditions at Elm Tree Farm and scored four tries to two to climb two places to seventh, while Old Grovians dropped a place to fourth.

Grovians skipper Ben Brown said: "The referee is there to do a job isn't he and we can't reflect on what decisions were or weren't given our way or their way.

"That just happens in the world of rugby.

"We started the game particularly poorly for 20 minutes and let them score 10 points without really threatening anything ourselves so we need to learn to start games better against big teams.

"Then we came into the game and played really well in the second half but two lapses in concentration gave them another 10 points, which ultimately lost us the game.

"We do need to be more clinical and start games better, and they are the bigger issues for us."

Brown also conceded that his team got their tactics wrong in the first half.

He admitted: "You can't win a game from your own half and we are sometimes guilty of overplaying in our own half against a good forward pack, and Northallerton are a good forward pack.

"The message from (coach) Andy Hinchliffe was very clear at half-time - we play in their half of the pitch and put them under pressure, and for the majority of the second half we did that really effectively, with plenty of penalties going our way in their 22.

"On a different day we could have won that game, but credit to Northallerton. They stuck to their game-plan and ground out the win."

Positives for the hosts were the form of front-rower Matthew Worrall and the fact that they turned their fortunes around in the second half.

Brown said: "Matthew had an unbelievable game at hooker - both in the set-piece and the loose - and he was the stand-out defender for us.

"He was getting off the line when others weren't attacking very well against their big lads, which was a real positive, and another was how we listened at half-time to Andy and implemented the game-plan, which was a positive for our mental attitude."

The loss of Griffin in particular harmed Old Grovians' chances.

Brown revealed: "Griff has had a stiff neck all week and we hoped that he would come through it but unfortunately after a couple of hits it was clear that he could not play on.

"He has probably been our talisman for the past seven or eight seasons so when you lose someone like Griff it hurts the team, but I don't think that was any reflection on the two lads who stepped into the centre from the back row in John Neal and Matt Ryan."

On an afternoon that was a mixture of slate-grey skies, a bit of rain and sunshine and a more constant biting wind, Old Grovians were certainly not at the races from the get-go in this Yorkshire Division Two clash.

They kicked the ball dead from the kick-off and conceded a penalty at the resulting scrum but debutant fly half Charlie Parker got the home side out of trouble with a booming clearance.

They were then unlucky when referee Houghton-Richards was unsighted when visiting centre Hopkins was tackled as he was diving for the line in the eighth minute, with the whistler awarding the try despite a knock-on that was obvious from the touchline.

Troy Badenski added a second try 16 minutes later when he should have been stopped, with the hooker wriggling free to plant the ball beyond the whitewash.

Soon after Mitchell joined Griffin in the 'casualty ward' and Grovians blew an attack when full back Max Kennedy's pass went into touch.

The half ended with Brown having two pots at goal.

The first came back off the near upright in the 38th minute from near the 10-metre line, but the second in injury time from the 22 sailed over to make the half-time score 10-3 to the green shirts of Northallerton.

Old Grovians showed their best passage of play thus far two minutes into the second half but they were soon back on the defensive, almost making a hash of a Northallerton kick through and then being offside from the subsequent 22-metre drop-out.

Parker and Brown's tactics of kicking long and then hoping to nick a line-out or put the visitors under pressure in open play were sensible tactics given the conditions, and they were rewarded with a 66th-minute try from Kennedy.

Five minutes later, Northallerton responded with a try by prop Dom Dolby that owed as much to slack Grovians tackling as any brilliance from the visitors.

The black shirts of the home side were not done yet, though, and cooked up the best try of the afternoon in the 73rd minute from a very unpromising beginning.

Kennedy was fumbling the ball in back field but shot off to his right, linking with Brown, who ran deep into the Northallerton half before giving No 8 Danny Secker a scoring pass.

Then the referee overruled that quick Old Grovians line-out deep in their own half, and Northallerton, who missed all of their conversions, got their fourth and final try two minutes into added time to get the bonus point when James went over on the right amid a pile of flying bodies and a swaying corner flag.

Sporting his Christmas jumper before an end-of-year celebration, scrum half Brown added: "Now we have a good rest period over Christmas where we will recoup, stay fit and challenge that top three or four."

Coach Hinchcliffe remained upbeat and full of praise for his players despite defeat.

He said: "I would like to pay tribute to the players who have a great team spirit and play (and train) to have fun and enjoy themselves.

"They are a pleasure to coach, have a deep understanding of the game and are massively overachieving given the facilities and finances available."