West Hartlepool grind out close victory against Morpeth
If winning when you are not playing at your best is a measure of success then West Hartlepool may well go on to win North One East this season.
Against a seasoned pack, and a pair of talented half-backs, West were never comfortable on Saturday.
But with two of the three closest sides losing, this four-pointer may prove to be a vital win as the season unfolds.
With vice-captain Ryan Painter and second row Joe Rafferty away, West blooded 17-year-old scrum-half Matt Siddle. His fearless tackling and long quick passes were major features of the Brinkburn side’s success as the pack often went backwards.
No 8 Sam Miller was also missing through injury, as was big front row Michael Hogan, so West were always deficient in terms of bulk. However, they did have the bonus of the return of athletic lock John Bunter where his line-out skills won vital ball.
As a result, fly-half Gavin Painter put in a man-of-the-match performance with his tactical kicking providing the platform.
It came to the fore after just six minutes when the home side were already trailing to a penalty from Morpeth fly-half Ben Hornby.
Zac Southern intelligently kicked into the 22, and when the visitors failed to throw straight at the line-out West took the opportunity to catch and drive.
Peter Youll then made progress and when the ball was recycled Painter put a high punt towards the corner flag at the clubhouse end. Rob Thorn was first to the ball and he used his power to shrug off Morpeth winger Jake McKay to crash over.
Painter converted from wide on the left, and he was on target again with 25-metre penalty after he mmade a hgalf break with Siddle and Maddison taking the ball on - Morpeth eventually being penalised for going over the top.
The visitors’ pack then enjoyed its best spell of the game forcing West back into their own half. Hornby slotted two penalties before Painter again struck right on half-time to give West a 13-6 lead at the break.
Jay Corbett had forced the penalty in front of the posts as he barged his way towards the line only to pay the price having to retire with an arm injury.
Morpeth had the elements behind them in the second half and they used them to pin West back.
A succession of penalties eventually saw the home side run out of numbers on the blind side with winger Jonny Ward crashing over in the corner.
The visitors had opted for scrums instead of shots at the goal posts as their pack continued to have the better of the set-piece.
Hornby’s conversion attempt was too low, but he did strike after 52 minutes to give the visitors the lead – the penalty coming after young Irish referee Ian Kenny had penalised West seven times in a row.
The restart did give the hosts the chance to rebuild with both sides missing penalty attempts before West’s pressure finally resulted in the winning score with just seven minutes left on the clock.
It came after replacement winger Will Hilditch collected a clearance kick just inside his own half and he jinked through the defence to set up good ball in the 22.
Gavin Painter took the ball towards the line and when he was brought down the ball was quickly spun right where Southern picked out Liam Checksfield.
The youngster had Rob Thorn outside him but cut inside to crash over despite the attentions of three tacklers.
Painter again converted to give West a six-point margin which they held onto until the final whistle without too many threats from Morpeth.
Forwards coach Peter Robinson admitted his pack was unaccustomedly going backwards at times but said: “Northumberland teams are renowned for their big hard working packs and we were giving away quite a few pounds today.
“However, they never once pushed us off our own ball which is testament to the talents of Danny Boatman who had to play number 8 and also credit to Matty Siddle who was sharp.
“We can play better, but at the end of the day the game is about adapting and taking your chances and once again we finished the stronger and deserved the result.”
West: Zac Southern, Liam Checksfield, Eldon Myers, Peter Youll, Rob Thorn, Gavin Painter, Matt Siddle, Adam Coates, Andrew Rollins, Ross Wood, Jay Corbett, John Bunter, Alex Barker, Lee Maddison, Dan Boatman (captain).
Reps (all used): Tim Blades, Will Hilditch, Carl Miller.
Tries: Thorn, Checksfield. Cons: Painter (2). Pens: Painter (2)
Morpeth: David Wall, Jonny Ward, Ben Turner, David Lynn, Jake McKay, Ben Hornby, Jack Elliott, Liam Carmichael, Carl Hill (capt), Tony Moody, Karl Campbell, Simon Michie, Robbie Stansfield, Mickey Craigs, James Armstrong.
Reps (all used): Hus Yilmaz, Will McCubbin, Callum Lawn.
Tries: Ward. Pens: Hornby (3).
Referee Ian Kenny (Scottish Referees Society)