Silverware delight for Hartlepool in Bangkok

The Hartlepool side celebrates with the Shield Trophy.
The Hartlepool side celebrates with the Shield Trophy.

They came, they saw, they competed and won silverware.

Hartlepool will return from Thailand with the Shield trophy having finished the Bangkok International Sevens the way they began it - with a victory over Lao Nagas.

The come-from-behind 19-5 win over the Lao national side was a moment of triumph for the town side who only came together last week and dug in with great spirit to emerge with some glory.

Hartlepool, beset by injury problems, and on their last legs after an energy-sapping weekend in sweltering heat and humidity in the Thai capital won through three second-half tries by Jack McCallum, Liam Austwicke and Liam Bailey.

Manager John Bickerstaff said: “It’s mission accomplished for me.

“We’ve played some good rugby against tough opposition and in intense heat.

“We’ve come out to a big international event and we’re taking something home to Hartlepool.

“It’s a great achievement for the lads, but also for the town.

“I think it’s something Hartlepool should be proud of and something we can build on.”

The united town squad certainly did it the hard way, having suffered two dramatic defeats in the opening games of the knock-out stages yesterday.

Matched with Wiss in the quarter-final at the Bangkok International Patana School, they looked as though they were heading into the last four, only to be edged out 24-14 by two late Spanish tries.

Wiss took advantage of a third-minute overlap to go 5-0 up, but Hartlepool hit back before the interval, McCallum making a break before showing great determination to go over under the sticks, Cameron Lithgo converting.

It got even better early in the second period, Bailey making a strong run from a tap penalty to find Lee Maddison.

He carried on the attack before putting the supporting McCallum over for his second touchdown. Liam Austwicke converted from wide on the left to make it 14-5.

Wiss hit straight back when their wide player ran 60 metres to score a converted try.

Leading 14-12, Hartlepool needed to hang on but after losing possession in their own 22, the Madrid team capitalised with a converted score.

Michael Ainslie’s side required a dramatic finish but Wiss added the final score with a chip and chase.

That took Hartlepool into the Plate semi-final where there was more heartache.

Up against Chulalongkorn University, Austwicke was inches off target with a conversion to tie the scores at 21-21.

The West full-back had just touched down in the corner but was unable to add the extra points with the last kick of the tie.

It was an incredible spectacle in the mid-day heat as the game swung back and forth.

The athletic Thailand team streaked away for the first score after Pool lost possession just outside their 22.

But Hartlepool came back with a spectacular effort right at the end of the first period when Alex Rochester sent his Rovers club-mate Adam Smith flying clear from 70 metres.

Rochester’s conversion made it 7-7.

Unfortunately, within seconds of the re-start, Chulalongkorn regained the lead with a converted try.

However, never-say-die Hartlepool bounced back when Alex Bayliss, one of two guests from Hong Kong, forced his way over from a tap penalty with Cameron Lithgo’s successful kick making it 14-14.

Just when the Poolies thought they were back in it, the Thai team ran through from deep with the conversion giving them a 21-14 advantage.

With injury time starting, Austwicke showed great tenacity to get over in the corner, only for his conversion to drift agonisingly wide of the far post.

But the beauty of sevens tournament rugby is every team gets the same amount of game-time.

And that meant Hartlepool pitted their wits and last reserves of gas against Lao Nagas.

The South East Asian team took a sixth-minute lead when they ran in an unconverted try following a tap penalty.

They almost had another but for a superb last-ditch Lee Maddison tackle just metres from the try-line.

Hartlepool, minus injured first-day stars Brad Green and Peter Howe, showed their heart when they fought back in style.

Leading try scorer McCallum made a 50-metre break from half-way to score under the posts. Cameron Lithgo added the conversion to give his side a 7-5 lead.

And they soon returned to the attack and despite heroic Lao tackling, Austwicke went over with Lithgo again adding the extra points.

There was more to come as McCallum, Rochester and Smith all handled in a great attack down the left which skipper Bailey, fittingly, finished off in the corner.

Hartlepool came close to a fourth through Bayliss, but that would have been greedy.

They ended worthy winners of an entertaining final.

Hartlepool squad: Liam Austwicke, Liam Bailey, Alex Bayliss, Brad Green, Peter Howe, Cameron Lithgo, Jack McCallum, Lee Maddison, Bernie Reeves, Alex Rochester, Adam Smith,