HARTLEPOOL Rovers emerged from their Durham Northumberland One clash against Durham City with two bonus points – but only just.
Rovers almost ended up empty-handed, the try-scoring and losing points coming in the eighth minute of added time.
In losing for the second time on home turf this season, Rovers dropped two places to sixth in the table to lose ground on the clubs at the top of the division.
After the rarity in modern rugby of a point-less first period, the Whites had actually led 17-7 and so to finally lose 26-22 was a massive disappointment. It was also a missed opportunity.
Rovers failed to close the game out just as they had been unable to kick-on when they led 14-0 at Stockton and there seems to be something in their psyche that makes them better at chasing a game – as their 27-25 win at Gateshead last time out showed.
In-between, however, Rovers had a Saturday off and have often struggled to regain momentum after a free weekend. Rovers didn’t play badly but they had trouble in catching and holding onto the ball and the number of spills was into double figures
Old county rivals City looked dangerous in the backs but only created five clear chances, yet they converted four into tries, three of them crucially being converted by stand-off Mark Bedworth.
Rovers were unhappy with the performance of referee Adam Morrison who disallowed ‘tries’ by Steven Barnfield and Callum Whitehead.
But Rovers failed to get the ball to the in-form Liam Austwicke and Adam Smith, as well as the other wingman David Grand anywhere near enough. The trio had scored all four tries at Eastwood Gardens a fortnight ago as Rovers had roared back to win.
Durham had done their homework on Austwicke who found himself having to run from inside his own 22 and was quickly closed down. Smith and Grand hardly saw the ball, having a couple of carries each and the latter getting on the end of a kick ahead.
The pack tended to get on top of the away eight only to then relax their grip with some wrong options when chances beckoned.
When Barnfield dived over from a five-metre scrum after 19 minutes it looked as though Rovers had gone ahead only for Mr Morrison to disallow the type of try seen every week.
Rovers were reduced to 14 men when Whitehead was sin-binned but pulled off a strike against the head with a seven-man pack when under pressure on their own line.
With 40 minutes played, Rovers swarmed all over the City line where Whitehead was ruled not to have grounded the ball. With Kyle Wilson now in the sin bin and his pack on the run, Rovers amazingly went for a catch and drive. They won the lineout only to drop the ball.
The game needed a score and it came two minutes after the interval.
A 20-metre pack drive saw Andrew Flounders and Andrew Pinchen break off and Whitehead touchdown in the Steetley corner.
City hit straight back to take a 7-5 lead three minutes later when Bradley Pears ran a great line from the 22 to cut through the home defence, Bedworth converting.
Some superb play by the Friaragemen saw them regain the lead on 51 minutes when Austwicke broke from halfway and though caught was able to grubber kick ahead with Grand winning the chase to the ball, Daz Fawcett adding the extra points.
Rovers extended their lead to 17-7 on the hour when some slick inter-passing by sub James Evens and Lee Maddison saw Matty Wilson in support to collect and cross.
City then hit back and hooker Kenny Reader burrowed over from a tap penalty after 67 minutes and Bedworth’s well-judged conversion cut Rovers’ lead to 17-14.
Six minutes later, a free kick was then converted into a penalty for dissent and advanced 10 metres and City took full advantage with Pears again breaking and clinically finishing to show Rovers how to do it and Bedworth’s third conversion put Durham 21-17 ahead.
The Citizens wrapped the game up on 78 minutes when skipper Paul Armstrong, now operating at scrum-half, dived over and they could have gone further ahead but Chris Metcalfe was tackled by Smith just short of the line.
With stoppage time being played the Whites declined a front-on penalty that would have brought a losing bonus point and went in search of a try that would bring them two bonuses. After a sequence of penalties that saw Howard Johnson sin-binned and City fortunate not to concede a penalty try, Michael Tucker forced his way over.
“Disappointed,” was coach Carl Robinson’s summary.
“We had no passion and were too lethargic and lacking in support for the ball-carrier, the very things we talked about in the run up to the match.
“We need to keep the ball moving at vital moments and commit men to the rucks and mauls to protect the ball or turn it over.”
“Training is the key,” added fellow coach Graham Puckrin.
“We need to know what each other is doing and when instead of waiting for someone else to do the work.
“This was a game that we should have won and we need to look at why we didn’t and learn quickly from it. Darlington next up is now a massive and pivotal game for us.”
Rovers: Austwicke, Grand, Gunn, Coulson (c), Smith. Fawcett, S Barnfield, A Flounders, Maguire, Tucker, Baxter, Pinchen, M Wilson, Maddison, Whitehead. Subs used: Evens, Wise, Church
Tries: Whitehead 42; Grand 51; Wilson 60; Tucker 80+8; conversion: Fawcett 51
Penalties awarded16, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 12, 1 against the head; lineouts won 8
Durham City: Armstrong (c), Huitson, Pears, Metcalfe, Howe, Bedworth, Paxton, Hay, Reader, Mackay, K Wilson, Johnson, Maw, Knowles, Dent. Subs used: Hodgson, Sayer, Hogg
Tries: Pears 45, 73; Reader 67; Armstrong 78; conversions: Bedworth 45, 67, 73
Penalties awarded 12, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 13, 1 against the head; lineouts won 13
Referee: Adam Morrison (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Austwicke 7; Whitehead 28; K Wilson 40; Johnson 80+7
Other results: Blyth 10 Consett 77; Guisborough 36 Darlington 10; Medicals 33 Gateshead 12; Morpeth 50 Sunderland 12; Novocastrians 27 Stockton 28; Ryton 19 Gosforth 15