A try by captain Roland Walker with the last play of the game saw St Andrews secure back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Fresh off their last week’s cup triumphagainst Loughborough, their first win of the season, Saints came out of the blocks with a sense of renewed intensity and after seeing off some early Durham pressure they opened the score through the boot of Finn Murphy.
The icy conditions did make for quite the attritional game but St Andrews extended their lead to ten points after 18 minutes, Michael Sutherland going over and Murphy adding the extras.
However, Durham were no slouches, having secured wins over Manchester and Strathclyde earlier in the season and they fought their way back into the game in the second quarter. A penalty reduced the deficit to seven points before a converted try after 34 minutes drew them level.
Despite appearing to be the last act of an back-and-forth opening period a fumble in the St Andrews backline put the home defence under considerable pressure and gave the away side a golden opportunity they didn’t hesitate to take. Although the Saints repelled the first few phases of their onslaught, Durham’s hard running paid dividends and their blindside flanker dotted down with two minutes of the half remaining, giving them a 15-10 half-time lead after their fly-half missed a regulation conversation
That flurry of scores to end the half clearly disappointed the Saints players, who have been playing with a renewed sense of vigour in recent weeks and they began the second half with aplomb, scoring two tries in the opening seven minutes.
The first of those came after an incisive break from Sutherland created a gap in the defence for scrum-half Charlie Davies to score but it was Champagne Rugby that was the order of the day for Saints’ third try of the evening.
A Saints turnover at the breakdown in their own half set Toby Hall on a mazy run. The towering centre fed Walker, who dashed for the corner, and when he was closed down he made a delightful one-handed no-look offload to Alex Hodgins, who had a simple run in. Murphy erred from the tee for the first time but Saints led 22-15 with 30 minutes remaining.
Momentum swung again however, as a try from Durham’s hooker 10 minutes later pulled them level before some ill-discipline crept in to Saints’ game, resulting in them giving away two penalties in the closing quarter hour. Durham made no mistakes on either occasion and although Murphy scored one of his own, Saints trailed 28-25 with five minutes still on the clock, before Walker’s incisive break gave the home side a first league win of the campaign.
It was very nearly a case of what could have been for St Andrews though. Indeed, Durham’s substitute prop was sent to the sin-bin on 68 minutes for deliberately collapsing a maul, and with no other front-row forwards at their disposal, scrums were uncontested during his absence. Yet St Andrews were unable to maximise their advantage, with only three points being scored for either side during his absence.
Likewise, when Durham were penalised for not rolling away just inside the 22 in the closing stages, Walker opted for a scrum which nearly went awry. When the reset scrum rewarded the home side with another penalty, most had expected him to opt for the posts and had he not scored from the tap and go, many questions would have undoubtedly followed.
However, score he did and with that he secured the try bonus point for St Andrews. They remain anchored to the bottom of the North B table but they now have six points to their name; the same number they now trail sixth-placed Durham by after they picked up a losing bonus point. Saints return to action in two weeks against Leeds Beckett, whilst Durham face both Leeds and Loughborough before the Christmas break.