ON paper, at least, this looks like a convincing defeat for Hartlepool Rovers.
But take out the sizable contribution of 20-point Luke Scrimshaw and this would have been a much tighter match.
True to form, Rovers conceded the first points at Woodhead, falling behind 7-0 after only five minutes, and yet hit back to such an extent that they led 15-7 – thanks to two wonder-tries – with the interval approaching.
After the break, however, Old Brodleians’ number eight Scrimshaw dominated proceedings to such a degree that he scored a hat-trick in only 15 minutes of playing time. He then added a fourth for good measure with the last move of the game.
Scrimshaw’s intervention was badly needed by Brods as rock-bottom Rovers had threatened to earn a first win on the road and only their third of this depressing North One East campaign.
The Whites, with no pressure on their shoulders, set out, quite rightly, to enjoy themselves and played some tremendous rugby.
Friarage boss Alan Brown has been dealt a cruel hand of cards this season and, just when he thought the absentee list had peaked, the Friaragemen were deprived of Steve Barnfield, Mark Power, Michael Thubron and hookers Jonny Cushlow and Dave Gregory.
But this latest cloud had a silver lining. Tom King showed, as Barnfield has done lately, he can easily slot in at full back, Michael Tucker gave his usual committed display as a replacement number two; Andrew Pinchen got a chance to impress in the second row and Callum Whitehead was certainly not overawed at blindside flanker and could have had a try.
Tucker, in particular, stood out in the tight and loose. He took two strikes against the head and was denied a third when referee Nick Ramsden re-set a scrum. His throwing in at the lineout was picked off several times but that was to be expected and he can put that right on the training field.
Like stand-in captain Ian Pinchen, who led from the front and put in his trademark barnstorming runs, he was also to be relied upon to gain vital metres.
There must have been a temptation for Brown to introduce himself into the fray after Scrimshaw’s triple onslaught but he resisted and allowed the players themselves to get back into the game.
There is still time for Rovers to get a couple of wins and the next two Saturdays gives them the chance with Pontefract and Old Crossleyans visiting the Friarage.
“We had nothing to lose and I seriously believe the scoreline flattered Brods and didn’t reflect the game,” Brown told SportMail. “At half time I thought we had them, their coach certainly thought so and told me as much as we came off.
“We were getting over the gain line and also had some better decision-making as to when to take the contact and when to pass.
“We were on top but were undone by the very tactics that we used so well last season, the pack drive.
“We still need to be a bit more expansive, and fitter, but we’ve shown over the last few matches we are a match for teams. This is where we need to get back to.”
Old Brodleians had the better of the opening stages, certainly in the kicking stakes, and took the lead when ex-Mowden Park man Richie Holborough took the scoring pass after a neat break by Liam Scott, Oliver Akroyd converting.
Rovers hit back with some tremendous driving play by the pack, Tucker, Whitehead and Ian Pinchen all being stopped short. After a sequence of penalties at the breakdown, Mr Ramsden showed the yellow card to Matt Willis and Chris Sainty slotted the penalty.
This was the cue for Rovers to take the game to the hosts and it paid off in style.
A Stewart Grazier turnover on halfway sent Ian Coulson flying up the right flank. The winger had seen more ball in a matter of minutes than in the whole of the previous match and when play moved across the pitch, Andrew Lilley headed off from the home 10-metre line. There seemed no way through but he evaded all tacklers in a great run to the line for undoubtedly Rovers’ try of the season. Sainty kicked the extra points and Rovers led 10-7.
Another turnover put the backs away and this time it was James Masshedar’s turn to dance his way over.
But right on half-time, the men in black pulled five points back. Two players from each side pounced for Joe Armitage’s grubber kick to the line but it was Scott who got the vital touch.
The break, and that score, came at just the wrong time for Rovers who had Brods rattled.
After the interval, however, the Tykes’ pack started to impose themselves and this paid off in startling fashion with Scrimshaw’s quick-fire treble.
The burly forward got the scoring touch after an attacking maul, his second when Rob Jennings made the initial surge and his hat-trick finished off some superb support and close passing play.
Fellow back rower Akroyd showed the value of an ace kicker with the marksman putting all three touchline conversions over.
Rovers, having suffered those quick scores, leaked another on 63 minutes when Luke Brocklehurst dived over after a neat break by Tom Hanson.
They did, however, get a deserved try with a second score for Masshedar. The pack camped on the home line where Andrew Dring, Andrew Pinchen, Steve Smith and Tucker were all well tackled. With Andrew Arnell marshalling his troops, Rovers didn’t panic and when they spread the ball a long pass put the centre in, Sainty converting.
The visitors went looking for a try bonus point but left themselves open to a counter-attack and the centre duo of Holborough and Andy Clay set up a fourth try for that man Scrimshaw.