Hartlepool Rovers fell to a heavy defeat at Barnard Castle on Saturday, the hosts running in eight tries in a one-sided contest.
Whilst the result, with Barnard Castle pushing hard for promotion in third place, was not unexpected, the margin of defeat will have disappointed head coach Jon Benson and the team.
Both results and performances since Benson’s arrival had suggested, along with the urgent need for league points to stave off relegation, that Rovers might have at worst taken a losing bonus point or, at best, a win.
The Whites’ preparation was far from ideal with Liam Austwicke ruled out for the rest of the season with a fractured jaw sustained in a training accident with Kevin Maguire who was himself unavailable alongside Lewis Humble and Dylan Langley.
Daz Fawcett came in at stand-off with Michael Barnfield moving to outside centre. Andrew Flounders switched to hooker with Billy Lloyd at loosehead and Callum Whitehead at lock.
The defeat ultimately wasn’t the disaster that it might have been with only Gosforth of the bottom six winning meaning that Rovers dropped only one place in the Durham Northumberland One table to 11th.
It does mean, however, that, after next week’s free date, the home clash with Gateshead has to be won.
After a nightmare first half that saw Rovers trail 31-7, the second period was much, much better.
Although livewire full back Chris McTurk completed his hat-trick on 64 minutes, Rovers probably shaded the half with two converted tries in the final three minutes making for a more lop-sided scoreline than the visitors deserved.
McTurk and Adam Kicks had caused all sorts of mayhem in the reverse fixture and they broke to take play to the Rovers’ line where the ball was spread for McTurk to cross after only four minutes.
The away eight then put in a promising spell only for Castle to counter and a missed tackle on half way saw their backs head into the away 22 were Sam Errington skipped through to score and add the extra points for a 12-0 lead.
The lead extended to 19-0 on 24 minutes when Kicks and Jack Worley broke to set up a 15-metre rolling maul which ended when Doug Shaw peeled off, Errington converting.
Alex Rochester was then called into action to pull off a try-saving tackle on Ed Kirby before a great pack drive by the Friaragemen saw Whitehead power over the line at the second attempt, Fawcett’s conversion making it 19-7.
Kirby had his revenge on Rochester when he drew the full back and sent McTurk streaking down the left wing to score and the full back, who was pulling all the strings, and quick recycling from another move sent Dan Potts under the posts, Errington’s conversion bringing the half time whistle and a 31-7 lead.
The Barnfield brothers, Michael and Steven, set up James Evens and Taz Pelser at the start of the second half but Chrissy Harrison couldn’t take the next pass and a Rovers’ maul in front of the posts was held by Castle.
Flounders was involved in all of Rovers’ good moves and his tireless work was rewarded when he barged over from close range after 59 minutes to cut the deficit to 31-12.
McTurk was nearly in from a diagonal kick to the right corner on 62 minutes but he got his hat trick score two minutes later when he was first to a grubber kick, Errington kicking the touchline conversion.
Flounders, Evens and Freeman Lane then went close before Castle finished the game off with Greg Upton and Kicks taking advantage of a tired defence to score and Errington’s two conversions made for the final 52-12 scoreline.
“We were all over the place in the first half,” said Director of Rugby Mick Ainslie afterwards, “and our defensive lines were poor. Their open play was very good and any missed tackle seemed to bring a score.
“Losing Dringy (Andrew Dring) and Callum didn’t help but Freeman played a pivotal role when he came on and Fuzz (Flounders) was excellent once again.
“The team spirit in the second half as we tried to get back into the game was a credit to the lads but they are a very good side.”
Barnard Castle: McTurk, Bookes, Upton, Welsby, Kirby, Errington, Kicks (c), Haynes, Shaw, Hughes, Potts, Worley, Stanwix, Larder, Bell. Subs used: Suluga-Fagalilo, Firmin, Souter
Tries: McTurk 4, 35, 64; Errington 18; Shaw 24; Potts 40; Upton 77; Kicks 79; conversions: Errington 18, 24, 40, 64, 77, 79
Penalties awarded 5, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 6; lineouts won 9
Rovers: Rochester, Harrison, M Barnfield, Evens, A Smith, Fawcett, S Barnfield, Lloyd, A Flounders, Pinchen (c), Whitehead, Ryan, O’Callaghan, Wood, Dring. Subs used: Lane, Ross, Pelser
Tries: Whitehead 32; Flounders 59; conversion: Fawcett 332
Penalties awarded 12, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 8, 1 against the head; lineouts won 4
Referee: Carl Hall (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Stanwix 58
Other results: Gateshead 23 Middlesbrough 15; Consett 35 Medicals 25; Hartlepool 15 Consett 24; Ryton 3 Northern 41; South Shields Westoe 36 Novocastrians 11; Stockton 3 Horden and Peterlee 24