HARTLEPOOL Rovers pulled off a tremendous away win at Darlington with five tries also earning them a bonus point.
Rovers’ record at Blackwell Meadows over the years has been woeful and when the hosts led 10-0 from two visits to the away 22, it looked as though it might be a long afternoon for the Whites and the away support.
After making the mistake early doors of taking possession straight back into the contact area with the home pack, Rovers started to throw the ball about and move the heavier home eight around the big pitch.
They got their reward with five good tries, all scored by the backs, with David Grand notching a brace to keep his recent good scoring form going – now five in four games- as did fellow wingman Adam Smith, whilst Steven Barnfield and James Evens also crossed the whitewash.
Sadly for Rovers, the results of the teams immediately above them in the table didn’t go their way and so Rovers stay in sixth. They will look back at the disappointing loss against Durham City the previous week and rue the missed win that would have put them second or third and right on the heels of leaders Morpeth.
Durham Northumberland One division this season is extremely tough and competitive and the pressure is mounting as can be seen with Morpeth losing at Stockton and drawing at Gateshead and Consett being well beaten at home by Guisborough.
Rovers’ destiny, however, is largely in their own hands. On their day they are capable of beating any side in the league but often come unstuck by virtue of their own mistakes.
The fixtures to come before the Christmas break are third-placed Consett on home turf on Saturday followed by consecutive away days at Blyth and Gosforth, who are in the lower reaches of the table.
Darlington took a third- minute lead with a Jack Harrild penalty from 25 metres.
A line-out steal and break by Lee Maddison saw the ball spread across the pitch where Liam Austwicke and Michael Tucker were held.
Rovers’ sustained pressure inside the home 22 came to nothing and Mark Baldwin punished the visitors with a huge clearance kick and from their first visit to the Rovers’ 22 David Kilpatrick powered through the centre channel, Harrild converting.
Callum Whitehead was making ground each time with his trademark bursts and he won a penalty on 22 minutes that Daz Fawcett put over with a well-judged kick from 35 metres.
The Friaragemen then properly ran the ball for the first time to score their first try after 26 minutes.
A turnover on their own 22 saw Ian Coulson break and great running and passing by Jack Gunn, Austwicke and Maddison sent Smith away and he sped up his win to cross in the left-hand corner. Fawcett’s touchline conversion just faded and Rovers trailed 8-10.
Rovers went close through Tucker, Andrew Flounders and Smith before taking a 13-10 lead on 37 minutes.
A Baldwin clearance was taken by Grand who set off, Austwicke then took over with a jinking run before good hands by Maddison put Barnfield in from close range.
There were 11 minutes of added time that saw Rovers look set to score through Austwicke and Whitehead only for Mr Phillips to blow for forward passes.
When Rovers ran the ball there was only one team in it and they extended their lead to 18-10 six minutes into the second half.
After going close again through Austwicke and Whitehead, some great handling along the line saw Gunn grubber kick through and the ball bounced kindly for Grand to pick up two metres out and dive over the line.
The try-scoring bonus point came on 58 minutes with Rovers’ pressure bringing mistakes from Darlington and Grand read a home pass to intercept and run home. Sub James Evens slotted the conversion and the lead was now 25-10.
Some superb defensive work was then needed by Rovers and a crucial turnover allowed Evens to clear. They were then denied by another forward pass ruiling by the referee as Smith broke clear after runs by Evens and Gunn.
Rovers sealed the win after 76 minutes when Barnfield and then Coulson kicked a loose ball upfield and, after Maddison nearly crossed, Evens received to touchdown and converted his own try for a 32-10 lead.
The sub then should have backed himself as he broke through the cover but unselfishly tried to find the supporting Smith but his floated pass went into touch.
“We were right up for this one,” said joint coach Carl Robinson. “Our preparation was good, the warm-up went well and we were switched on.
“I thought the pack worked their socks off and this was typified by the ball carrying and work in the loose by Squid (Kevin Maguire) and Callum (Whitehead).
“Steven Barnfield’s passing got the backs away time after time and Grandy (David Grand) took his tries well but all of the lads’ attitudes were spot on today.”
“We let the ball do a lot of the work,” said fellow joint coach Graham Puckrin. “We got some quick ball by committing numbers to the rucks and mauls.
“We were conceding weight per man to a huge pack but I thought our scrummaging and work in the line-out was outstanding.
“All the lads played well and we scored some cracking tries. There are some big matches coming up, starting with Consett at home on Saturday and we can’t relax.
“It’s up to the lads to keep this form going, it’s very tight in the league this year and a team can’t afford too many slip ups.”
Darlington: Harrild, Vaka, Kilpatrick, Beck, Pearse, Baldwin, Hargrove, Oselton, Hoare, Shepherd (c), Wilkinson, Tebbs, King, Casey, Rogers. Subs used: Hargreaves, Tonkin, Pugh
Try: Kilpatrick 17; conversion: Harrild 17; penalty: Harrild 3
Penalties awarded 10, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 7; lineouts won 14
Rovers: Austwicke, Grand, Gunn, Coulson (c), Smith, Fawcett, S Barnfield, A Flounders, Maguire, Tucker, Baxter, Pinchen, Wilson, Maddison, Whitehead. Subs used: Church, Little, Evens
Tries: Grand 46, 58; Smith 26; Barnfield 37; Evens 76; conversions: Evens 58, 76; penalty: Fawcett 22
Penalties awarded 9, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 7, 2 against the head; lineouts won 13
Referee: Sam Phillips (London)
Sent off: none; sin bin: none
Other results: Consett 15 Guisborough 39; Durham City 35 Medicals 22; Gateshead 17 Morpeth 17; Gosforth 29 Blyth 3; Stockton 40 Ryton 26; Sunderland 22 Novocastrians 26