A hat-trick from Callum Whitehead spurred Hartlepool Rovers on to a 27-9 win over Gateshead at the Friarage on Saturday.
The Whites’ captain was in imperious form and his tries plus a try, two conversions and a penalty for Ryan Foreman completed a victory that moves Rovers up to sixth in the Durham Northumberland One table.
The win made it two doubles in successive weeks after the previous Saturday’s win at Medicals and puts Rovers in great shape heading into the last two matches of the league season.
Those games are, however, potential banana-skins; away to relegation-threatened Ponteland and a home date with a seemingly doomed Redcar.
Led by the inspirational Whitehead, Rovers turned in a tremendous performance in dreadful conditions which led to some understandable handing errors and cost Rovers at least three or four first half tries.
These would have secured an early try-scoring bonus point and taken them out of sight of a spirited Gateshead team who battled to the end but who were completely outclassed by Rovers.
In a true team effort, there were also stand-out displays by the Railton brothers, Michael and Steven, and Paul Kirton in the backs and Danny Cookland, Dylan Langley, Joe Little, Andrew Dring and Liam Wood up front.
Everything seems to be starting to come together for Rovers just as the season is drawing to a close which is a shame but it’s up to the players to finish the campaign strongly and then reflect and set out their stall to have a better time of it next season.
“Our structure is starting to come together,” said player-coach Steve Smith afterwards. “Thanks to some good training sessions that have allowed us to run through and perfect our moves.
“This is the first time for quite a while when we haven’t conceded a try and this shows that our defence is improving and speaks well for our preparation.
“This was a strong performance and we need to keep it going. I set the lads a target of 20 points from the last four matches and we’re halfway there and so are on target.”
Rovers had an early let-off when David Tate delayed his pass to the over-lapping Tom Skidmore but the visitors kept the pressure on their hosts and Scott Cartner kicked a 30 metre three-pointer after six minutes to open the scoring.
The Friaragemen then failed to convert two chances in quick succession with the Railton brothers unable to take try-scoring passes within touching distance of the line.
Rovers took the lead after 23 minutes when they opted for a scrum from a penalty award and the home eight pushed Gateshead over their own line, Whitehead controlling the ball well at the base of the scrum.
The 5-3 lead didn’t last long with Cartner kicking a 35 metre penalty four minutes later.
Rovers had already let three chances go begging and Whitehead knocked on when trying to touchdown after dribbling the ball over the line from another five metre scrum.
Gateshead increased their lead to 9-5 in added time with a 19 metre penalty for offside.
Kirton made a neat break after 42 minutes with the pack using the pick and go to create a chance for Whitehead. He was ruled to have been held up but soon had a second chance and this time he took three defenders over the line with him as he scored and the lead was back with Rovers 10-9.
A sustained spell of pressure paid off on 51 minutes when, after Whitehead and Wood had been held just short, Foreman jinked his way over the line and added the extra points for a 17-9 lead.
Wood and sub Billy Lloyd were halted metres short of the line but won a penalty that Foreman kicked from 10 metres to keep the scoreboard ticking over and give a 20-9 lead.
An attacking lineout take by Tyrone Church and good breaks by Dring and Little led to the White Shirts’ bonus point try after 68 minutes.
Having established a good platform, Lloyd burst forward and found Whitehead in support and who celebrated his hat-trick score with a dive under the posts. Foreman kicked the easy conversion and Rovers were in full control as they played out the remaining time, chiefly in midfield, to record a convincing 27-9 win.
Rovers: M Railton, Coutts, Kirton, Gunn, S Railton, Foreman, M Stephenson, S Smith, Cookland, Pinchen, Langley, Little, Dring, Wood, Whitehead (c). Subs used: Lloyd, Maguire, Church
Tries: Whitehead 23, 46, 68; Foreman 51; conversions: Foreman 51, 68; penalty: Foreman 54
Penalties awarded 6, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 9, 1 against the head; lineouts won 6
Gateshead: Cartner, Skidmore, Heelbeck (c), Tate, Arthur, Ridley, Hall, O’Connor, Ewart, Moslemi, Ladds, McGowan, Lacey, Cooper, Omar. Subs used: Kelley, Craig; not used: Surrey
Penalties: Cartner 6, 27, 40+3
Penalties awarded 15, kicked 3, missed 0; scrums won 8; lineouts won 15, 1 stolen
Referee: Simon Williams (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: none
Other results: Barnard Castle 10 South Shields Westoe 20; Durham City 64 Ponteland 5; Gosforth 10 Horden and Peterlee 19; Guisborough 10 Stockton 32; Medicals 0 Consett 91; Novocastrians 55 Redcar 10