Hartlepool Rovers end Barnard Castle hoodoo and seal bonus poin in hard-fought victory
Hartlepool Rovers put in a mixed performance against Barnard Castle on Saturday but emerged with a 33-15 victory at the New Friarage.
In winning, the Whites finally came out on top against an opponent that had won the five previous clashes between the sides, and picked up a try-scoring bonus point into the bargain.
This result has put a bit of a buffer between Rovers and Barney and has cut the gap to Novocastrians immediately above them in the Durham Northumberland One table to 14 points.
That’s effectively three wins, but Novos are due on West View Road next month, which would take one of those games out of the equation and, of the two clubs, Rovers have the easier run of fixtures.
Taking the lead after only two minutes, Rovers looked set to dominate, only to go off the boil, and three tries in 10 minutes gave the visitors a 15-7 half-time lead.
Rovers came out for the second half and scored four unanswered five-pointers after the break to build a comfortable lead and close the game out with some ease.
A brace for Ian Pinchen led the way for the hosts, for whom the centre pairing of Liam Austwicke and Steven Barnfield and the back row of Liam Armstrong, Liam Wood and Callum Whitehead had great games but, once again, it really was a team effort.
The discipline was much-improved, especially in the offside department, but there were still some needless penalties conceded.
Rovers have now put together a three game mini-winning sequence and a trip to third-bottom Acklam, who humiliated them at the New Friarage 43-17 earlier in the season, next up, offers Rovers a great chance to continue that run.
A lightening start by Rovers saw Whitehead break from an attacking scrum and, after Austwicke was halted, Pinchen turned his marker to go over, Daz Fawcett converting.
Some over-elaborate play by Rovers then halted some promising moves and a reluctance to stick to simple tactics gave Castle the chance to pull five points back after 25 minutes, Lucas Summers stealing in down the blindside from a five-metre scrum.
The restart kick was a disaster for Rovers, too deep, and it allowed Greg Upton to break at pace and he sent Alistair Johnston away to the line from the home 22 to give the visitors a 10-7 lead.
Rovers had faded badly and continued to do so, and some close-range pressure saw Rob Stanwix taken over the line by the away eight on 35 minutes and, for Rovers, trailing 15-7, the interval came at just the right time.
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There was a 42nd-minute chance for Wood, only to lose control of the ball stretching for the line, but he made amends seven minutes later when he finished off a break by Whitehead after Rovers had taken scrums from three successive penalties.
Fawcett knocked over the conversion and Rovers were back in it, only a point down at 14-15.
It was two tries in three minutes when Neil Stead broke upfield and a strong run by Jack Gunn took him to two metres out, where Austwicke got over after a couple of near-misses, Fawcett’s conversion giving the lead back to Rovers, 21-15.
The Friaragemen were now dictating play up front and Whitehead and Taz Pelser broke from the home 22 after 64 minutes, taking play into the Castle half where a solid attacking platform saw Fawcett head for the line and time his pass to Tom Stead to perfection, the hooker with a slight juggle touching down.
All of a sudden, Rovers enjoyed a comfortable 26-15 lead and had banked their try-scoring bonus point.
A dominant home pack made the game safe on 68 minutes and a combination break by Danny Charters and Neil Stead set up Pinchen, who was unstoppable from five metres out, Fawcett’s fourth conversion giving the White Shirts their match-winning lead of 33-15.
For Rovers’ player-coach Steve Smith, already celebrating the birth of a baby daughter, it was a welcome double.
“This was a squad performance once again and the multiple substitutions all paid off,” said Smith.
“It’s great to be able to stand behind the posts or touchline and watch the lads when we play like this. The first 10 or 15 minutes were brilliant but we then fell asleep and had to chase the game.
“I thought Liam Austwicke and Liam Armstrong had great games and we seem to be enjoying our rugby, and we look a different team when that happens.
“We’ll go to Acklam ready to get a result.”