West Hartlepool hit form for stunning win against league leaders
West Hartlepool climbed out of the relegation zone with a fantastic win against league leaders Morpeth.
The Northumberland outfit had lost only twice prior to visiting Brinkburn on Saturday and few were expecting that tally to increase given the reverse fixture back in September saw West fail to trouble the scoreboard in a 43-0 drubbing.
But West have shown down the years they can raise their game at home, particularly against the better teams, and having won their last three fixtures of 2017 at their Catcote Road base, wanted to get 2018 off to a similar start.
The victory was built on some terrific defence, by far the hosts’ best performance of the season on that side of the ball and it showed on the scoreboard – limiting one of the league’s highest scorers to one late try.
For all West did well, Morpeth had a difficult afternoon, struggling at the lineout despite dominating the scrum.
Their ball carriers had plenty of success with some dangerous breaks from the backs but all too often these happened in their own half and West were able to recover without conceding points.
West were yet again forced into late changes with Craig Hadwen stepping up from the bench to start in the front-row and Jay Corbett being added to the replacements.
Morpeth started brightly with a couple of breaks from dangerous full-back Jonny Ward but West had the first scoring opportunity with a long-range penalty from Gavin Painter, unfortunately it dropped short.
The visitors remained on top and looked like getting the opening try with a rolling maul in the right corner followed by a scrum but West defended well and looked to have cleared the danger when a penalty was awarded. It was taken quickly but over-zealous appealing resulted in a penalty the other way and Ben Hornby took the shot at goal to put Morpeth in front.
West bounced straight back with a try from skipper Ryan Painter. A penalty kicked to the corner resulted in a maul that got close to the line and Painter darted in from short range. Brother Gavin slotted the conversion and added two further penalties as the visitors started to get on the wrong side of referee Tony Jenkins.
Hooker and captain Carl Hill spent the half time break in deep discussions with Mr Jenkins and an early second half penalty from Hornby cut the deficit to seven points but immediately from the restart another penalty for appealing went against Hill and this time he was despatched to the sin-bin for 10 minutes. That gave West a much-needed breather in the scrum where they had gone backwards all afternoon but the defensive effort continued and it led to their second try. Competition at a breakdown on half way resulted in a loose ball and Gavin Painter broke down the short side before feeding Rob Thorn for a run-in to the line.
Growing in confidence West played their best rugby in setting up the third try, midway through the second half. Crisp passing and powerful ball carrying in their own half made the Morpeth defence work hard and when Liam Checksfield sensed a gap he didn’t need a second invitation and used his pace to race away for a terrific score. He ran round under the posts to give Painter an easier kick but it was charged down.
Morpeth had to strike back quickly but couldn’t. Despite several chances it wasn’t until two minutes from time Ward got a deserved score with a mazy run. Hornby added a drop goal conversion but even with a late yellow card for Jay Corbett for offside the visitors couldn’t add to their tally and West recorded an unexpected but well-deserved win.
West Director of Rugby Peter Robinson said: “It was a tremendous display against a side who are deservedly up at the top.
“Our defence was the key as Morpeth’s strong runners were stopped time after time and when we got some space of our own we finished off two very good tries from the backs.
“There are some very tough games coming up but we will go into them with some renewed confidence.”
West: Austwicke, Thorn, Checksfield, Youll, Hilditch, G Painter, R Painter, Coates, Rollins, Hadwen, Bunter, Linighan, Butcher, Foulds, Turner.
Reps: Wood, Southern, Corbett
Tries: R Painter, Thorn, Checksfield Cons: G Painter Pen: G Painter 2 YC: Corbett
Morpeth: Ward, Hornby, Robinson, Phillips, Gavaghan, Hornby, Elliott, Sandall, Hill, Moody, Long, Dawson, Burnham, Williams, Craigs. Reps: Carmichael, Armstrong, Jackson
Try: Ward Con: Hornby Pens: Hornby 2 YC: Hill
Referee: Tony Jenkins