RUGBY REPORT: Hartlepool Rovers 22 Stockton 6

TRY SCORER:  Hartlepool Rovers captain Andrew Dring. Pictures by Tom Collins.

TRY SCORER: Hartlepool Rovers captain Andrew Dring. Pictures by Tom Collins.

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Hartlepool Rovers eventually overcame a battling Stockton side at the Friarage on Saturday.

But, in scoring only three tries,they missed out on a bonus point.

These two old Durham County rivals have slugged it out over many years and their matches are almost always close and this was again the case in this Durham Northumberland One clash.

The scoreline shows Rovers eventually won with something to spare but the Whites’ half time 7-6 lead also shows that it was nip and tuck until two tries in quick succession on 50 and 54 minutes gave Rovers a 19-6 lead.

While Rovers won reasonably comfortably, they could and should have scored at least three or four more tries when camped on the away line.

But, in fairness, the visitors themselves with better finishing could have had a couple of tries of their own.

The victory was based on a solid performance by the home eight that saw them dominate their counterparts for most of the 80 minutes.

Rovers’ pack has often been the cornerstone of their wins but had been under immense pressure in some of their matches in this campaign.

When the forwards took it upon themselves to play the driving game, and let their ball-carriers take on the Stockton defence, ground was gained every time and maybe this is a tactic, often neglected of late, that Rovers need to take into the rest of this season’s matches.

While the pack was the cornerstone of the win, it is not to say that the backs didn’t have their moments.

With plentiful front-foot ball, the threequarters used it to good effect with some open-running rugby.

After conceding over 30 points in successive defeats by Gosforth and Consett, Rovers’ mean defence had looked to have softened but it was back to normal business with their whitewash not crossed and the damage limited to two Dan Phinn penalties.

It was, once again, an all-round team effort but there were stand-out performances from Steven Barnfield, Liam Austwicke and Taz Pelser in the backs and Andrew Flounders, the second row duo of Anthony Hanley and Andrew Pinchen and the breakaway trio of Stewart Grazier, Lee Maddison and Andrew Dring.

The Friaragemen attacked from kick off and Flounders and Dring set up Barnfield in the Steetley corner but the full back was tackled two metres out.

The hosts then had to hold out under severe forward pressure from Stockton in the left hand clubhouse corner.

Another great marauding run by Flounders set up Grazier who rampaged to within touching distance of the line.

After Glen Wise also went close, the ball was released to the backs and Chris Sainty forced his way over and then added the extra points for a 7-0 lead.

Rovers thought they were in again four minutes later when Daz Fawcett put Maddison in from the 22 but play was brought back for crossing.

Stockton pulled six points back with two Phinn penalties on 19 and 23 minutes when Rovers were penalised for offside, as they were too often during the match, but he went wide with another effort after 28 minutes.

The kicker was then nearly over from a Jeremy Good kick through to the line but could not control the ball and more good defence was then needed as Stockton camped on the tryline with Stu Barrass failing to ground the ball after a solid drive.

A kick ahead by Pelser put Rovers onto the offensive after 47 minutes and this led to Austwicke breaking from the number 10 spot with Maddison and Dring taking play on and Flounders emerging from the maul to cross, Sainty converting.

On 54 minutes there was more superb play by the White Shirts with another break by Austwicke sending Dring away and the skipper simply barged and bustled his way to the line from 12 metres out with three defenders clinging onto his body.

Sainty’s conversion struck the right upright to make the lead 19-6.

Rovers declined an easy 30-metre penalty for a catch and drive but the lineout failed to go the five metres.

Having maybe taken the wrong option there, Rovers went for goal from another award on 61 minutes and Sainty this time put away the three-pointer.

Rovers continued to hammer away at the line but Maddison, Flounders, Grazier, Pinchen and Pelser were all thwarted by inches as they looked for the bonus point try.

After the match joint coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson were pleased with the result.

“I thought we conceded too many penalties in the second half and that affected the flow of our game,” said Puckrin.

“Having got onto the wrong side of the referee on the penalty count we turned it around and scored a couple more tries and kept Stockton from crossing our line.

“We did well in defence and didn’t panic but showed, instead, some excellent discipline and strength.

“We tried to play an expansive game and I don’t think I could have asked for more from the lads today.”

“I think as a team we are starting to play the way we have been building towards since pre-season,” Robinson added.

“I thought the entrance of Liam (Austwicke) provided the spark that may be we needed to kick on and he got through a lot of attacking and defensive work.

“Lee (Maddison) for me was, once again, outstanding and Fuzz (Andrew Flounders) and Taz (Pelser) were all over the pitch.”

Rovers: S Barnfield, Gunn, Grand, Sainty, Smith, Fawcett, Pelser, Flounders, Dakers, Wise, Hanley, Pinchen, Grazier, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: Church, Austwicke, J Cushlow

Penalties awarded 10, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 13, 1 against the head; lineouts won 7

Tries: Sainty 7; Flounders 50; Dring 54; conversions: Sainty 7, 50; penalty: Sainty 61

Stockton: Wilson, Crozier, Phinn, Simpson, Farrell, Good, Armstrong, Barrass, Muirhead, Conway,

Cheetham, Taylor (c), Nelson, Parkinson, Highfield. Subs used: Hargreaves, Austen, Healey

Penalties awarded 19, kicked 2, missed 1; scrums won 10; lineouts won 10

Penalties: Phinn 19, 23

Referee: Jolyon Dobbs (Manchester)

Sent off: none; sin bin: Flounders 35, Grazier 64