Crocs beat strugglers

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Old Crossleyans 36

Durham 13

CROSSLEYANS got back to winning ways in North One East after two narrow reversals with an ultimately comfortable victory over the bottom side.

Winger Leigh Thomas showed the way with a hat-trick of tries and three conversions in cold, dry conditions but director of rugby Howard Cooper admitted his men were far from pleased with the performance.

Durham have now lost 15 out of 16 league games this season but they are not ready to run up the white flag just yet, playing with plenty of spirit and defending well.

Their forwards took a couple of scrums against the head and didn’t allow Crocs to establish a platform for their clearly superior backs to cut loose.

The hosts were sitting comfortably enough at 24-6 up early in the second half but Durham narrowed the gap with a deserved converted try and battered away at the home line for a while before Cooper’s men lifted the siege and pulled away in the closing stages.

Crocs, who were without Ryan Hammond, James Cooper and Mark Palmer, gave Gareth Sweeney and Tom Hammond a start.

They made the early running on the back of a Neil Richardson penalty to touch in the corner but knocked on in front of the posts and Durham took play to the other end, where they should have taken the lead after 15 minutes.

Fullback Rob Smith skipped past three tacklers but took too long in grounding the ball and lost it behind the posts.

Home fullback Joe Baker was yellow carded as Durham maintained the pressure and visiting stand off Arnie Stevenson accepted an easy three points on 19 minutes.

Crocs took only two minutes to reply. Jack Hammond was halted inches short after some slick handling but when the ball was swung to the other side of the field No 8 Manny Riaz plunged over the try line. Thomas’s kick hit the right-hand upright.

Durham pressed again on the back of a dubious penalty against Sweeney but home player-coach Chris Jones eventually cleared and Thomas showed his finishing power wide out, beating the last two defenders before cutting inside to touch down on 33 minutes. Thomas added the conversion for a 12-3 lead.

The score looked set to stay that way up to half time when Crocs turned down an easy three points after a powerful diagonal run from Thomas and then surrendered good field position.

However, scrum half Chris Vine burst clear from the back of a ruck 10 metres inside the Durham half and went under the posts, Thomas converting in the last act of the 40 minutes.

Some sloppy passing was letting Crocs down as they tried to force the issue and Durham opened the second half scoring with a Stevenson penalty on 46 minutes.

Thomas was proving the game’s most penetrative runner and his great break down the middle paved the way for the next score two minutes later.

Gareth Ott sidestepped his way close to the line but it was Jones’s trademark long pass which eventually unlocked the defence, Baker sending in Thomas for an unconverted try wide out.

A bizarre sequence of events handed Durham a chance to get back into the match. Crocs won a penalty of their own 22 but Sweeney sliced the kick so badly it went into touch 10 yards behind him. Crocs still had the lineout but accidental offside handed Durham a golden position and lock Peter Dent did well to pick up an inside pass on the bounce and score close to the posts, Stevenson’s kick making it 24-13.

Durham had the bit between their teeth and applied intense pressure. However, Crocs are dab hands at defending on their own line and held firm.

Second rower Kev McGill put Crocs back on the attack with a strong run and he eventually touched down, replacement James Wainwright, Ott, Jones and Thomas all having gone close in the interim. Thomas converted to make it 31-13 after 67 minutes.

The home side butchered one or two more good chances and the game appeared to be petering out, with uncontested scrums as Durham’s front row felt the strain, until that man Thomas completed his hat-trick six minutes into added time.