Rovers well beaten by Durham

Hartlepool Rovers slumped to a second successive Durham Northumberland One defeat with a home 23-10 loss to Durham City.

Having already lost on week one of the league campaign to Middlesbrough, Rovers now find themselves fourth bottom in the table and ten points behind a top four grouping of Novocastrians, Horden, City and Ryton.

All of a sudden, the fifth-place finish last season and the fine Durham Intermediate Cup win at Ryton just two weeks ago look very distant indeed.

The minute the league fixtures came out, the Whites were left to reflect on a big plus and a huge minus.

The positive was having two home games in a row.

The negative, that loomed large, was that the matches were against promotion-favourites Middlesbrough and Durham City.

The Friarage Faithful clearly would have expected and wanted better than the two displays and results.

Whilst titles aren’t won in September, to be that number of points adrift already basically represents three wins and that is a tough hurdle to overcome - the division’s champions over the last three seasons have lost three, four and three games respectively.

Having failed, in cricketing parlance, to trouble the scorers on home turf, things get no easier for Rovers with a trip to Heaton on Saturday to face Medicals.

Rovers actually took a sixth minute lead with a 35-metre Steven Barnfield penalty at which point a monsoon hit the Friarage and the hosts hit a brick wall.

As against Middlesbrough a week earlier, Rovers were struck by a visiting team onslaught: the only difference being it was now men in blue and gold instead of maroon and gold.

City swept onto the attack and Peter Dent should have scored from a five-metre scrum but was robbed by James Evens.

The next move, however, saw City take the lead with Bradley Pears finishing strongly.

There was a piece of good luck for the visitors on 16 minutes when Craig Dominick fumbled the ball but still managed to find full-back Rob Smith to cross in the Steetley corner for a 10-3 lead.

Durham were now well on top and, playing the superior rugby, penned Rovers in their own 22 and things got worse for the Friaragemen when Barnfield was sin-binned for deliberate

offside although they denied Dent once again from the five-metre scrum.

Tempers frayed after 35 minutes on the home 22 and play restarted with a penalty to City and Paul Armstrong out the three-pointer over from 28 metres and City led 13-3.

This was a lead they kept through to half time with Rovers declining a kickable penalty only to lose the corner lineout, one of six own throw-ins to go astray.

After a bright spell after the break, Rovers fell further behind on 48 minutes when Dominick broke and timed his pass to Pears to perfection.

Rovers had a chance to reduce the deficit five minutes later but Evens went wide with a 28-metre kick.

Dominick and Pears conspired to blow a try-scoring chance after 58 minutes but Chris Metcalfe, who always seems to punish Rovers, scythed through the centre and popped up

the ball to Smith when tackled two metres out.

The White Shirts then enjoyed another purple patch and were rewarded with a 75th minute try for Patrick O’Callaghan.

The forward had been pressed into emergency service on the wing with Steven Flounders a late cry-off but reacted to a loose ball and picked it up on the away 10 metre line to race away to the line, Liam Austwicke converting.

Rovers then broke away from their own line with a superb 50 metre handling move to show what they can do but a spilled ball brought the final whistle.

“We lost to the better team on the day again,” said coach Graham Puckrin afterwards.

“I’ve got no complaints with the result, the referee or anything.

“The lads worked hard again which makes it so frustrating to come away with nothing from the game.

“We played the phases well and looked to be making headway lots of times only to then kick the ball aimlessly away or to get turned over and lose it.

“Part of our problem is that we have a game-plan in place but then either don’t use it or decide to change it but to something that isn’t better.

“It’s not the start we wanted but it’s happened and we’ll look to get something from Medicals on Saturday. It won’t be easy there and the whole division is looking tough this season.”

Rovers: S Barnfield, O’Callaghan, Austwicke, Grand, Gunn, Evens, M Stevenson, B Little, A Flounders, Pinchen, Langley, Whitehead, Church, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: Tucker, Wood, Lane

Try: O’Callaghan 75; conversion: Austwicke 75; penalty: Barnfield 6

penalties awarded 10, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 15, 1 against the head; lineouts won 8

Durham City: Smith, Metcalfe, Pears, Dominick, Heron, Armstrong, Paxton, Hogg, Hay, Parkinson, Powell, Showler, A Stevenson, Dias, Dent (c). Subs used: Harries, Markham, Early

Tries: Pears 12, 48; Smith 16, 58; penalty: Armstrong 35

Penalties awarded 9, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 14; lineouts won 16

Referee: Paul Candlish (Durham)

Sent off: none; sin bin: Barnfield 27