Hartlepool Rovers produced by far their worst performance of the season so far with a 57-7 hammering at Durham City.
It is a long time since Rovers turned in a display as abject and toothless as this; it wasn’t the best way to start the reverse league fixtures.
The Whites have lost all three league fixtures in December to Consett, Horden and City and after pushing Consett, arguably the best all-round rugby side in Durham Northumberland One, close they have shipped 101 points in the losses at Welfare Park and Hollow Drift.
Just when Rovers thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse they have the Boxing Day clash with West Hartlepool looming on Saturday. If that fixture doesn’t re-energise Rovers then they have a long and hard second half of the season ahead of them.
The hosts, granted, had some excellent attacking talent on display and who ran well, in support of one another and in good lines. But they were no more dangerous than the backlines of other clubs and that makes the heavy defeat even more surprising, despite the fact that the Citizens top the table.
Rovers, already hit by injury and unavailability, were to suffer from further cry-offs on the day and which can’t have helped their preparation.
That said, every one of the 18 man squad at Durham had played 1st XV rugby and so can’t be used as an excuse. Whether the players went into the match assuming they were going to be on the end of a caning only they can say but there certainly seemed to be a greater zip to the hosts’ warm-up.
Only the players can put this run of bad form behind them and kick-on to better things in the New Year. This will require a major shift in commitment on training nights; in selection availability and to turning in performances on the pitch on a Saturday afternoon.
That sounds quite a mouthful and asking but it’s not – they are pretty basic requirements for any sports team. There are also going to be times when they are going to have to play through the pain-barrier.
City swarmed straight onto the attack and Peter Dent and Mark Bedworth put Craig Dominic in after only three minutes.
The lead increased to 19-0, Thomas Baty touching down after a catch and drive before Arnie Stevenson set up Dominic.
Rovers did reach the home 22 but, despite five penalties in quick succession – all on the City five-metre line – there was no penalty try, nor, at the very least a yellow card.
To rub salt in the wounds, referee Mike Hodgson soon sin-binned Rovers prop Ian Pinchen.
There was an early second-half score by Phil Stewart after his pack had played the phases before Bradley Pears went on a superb swerving run to make it 33-0 after 51 minutes.
Callum Whitehead was the next man in the sin-bin on 53 minutes after which there was a brief attack by Matty Stephenson, Ian Coulson and Lee Maddison but it came to nothing and the Friaragemen fell further behind after 59 minutes.
Rovers looked to have all the angles covered but Stevenson somehow retrieved the ball to score and further tries followed on 62 and 65 minutes through Mike Hay and Stevenson again as City turned the screw.
Dent completed the scoring from a five-metre scrum, Peter Armstrong added his sixth conversion.
The White Shirts put a cross-field move together that led to them eventually being awarded a penalty try. After conceding three penalties in succession, and with Mr Hodgson’s arm outstretched for another, his patience ran out and Daz Fawcett’s conversion brought the final whistle.
“There’s not a lot to say after that,” said coach Graham Puckrin. “We just weren’t in it at all but that’s taking nothing away from a lot of their tries.
“Their running lines and support play were excellent whereas we couldn’t string anything together.
“Things aren’t going our way at the moment but we’ll keep plugging away, January’s fixture list is, on paper, easier but the games still have to be won.”
Durham City: Stewart, Pears, Dominic, Stevenson, Heron, Bedworth, Armstrong (c), Mackay, Reader, Parkinson, Showler, Wilkinson, Baty, Roberts, Dent. Subs used: Hay, Barton, Hodgson
Tries: Dominic 3, 14; Stevenson 59, 65; Baty 11; Stewart 42; Pears 51; Hay 62; Dent 73. Cons: Armstrong 3, 14, 42, 51, 65, 73
Penalties awarded 6, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 8; lineouts won 9
Rovers: Rochester, S Flounders, Wood, Coulson, A Smith, Fawcett, M Stephenson, I Flounders, Dakers, Pinchen, Langley, Ryan, J Little, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: Whitehead, D Smith, O’Callaghan
Try: Pen try 80+2; conversion: Fawcett 80+2
Penalties awarded 13, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 10; lineouts won 9
Referee: Mike Hodgson (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Pinchen 36; Showler 46; Whitehead 53
Other results: Gosforth P Gateshead P; Medicals 7 Middlesbrough 34; Novocastrians 29 Consett 22; Ponteland 27 Horden 36; Ryton 70 Darlington 7; Stockton 25 Acklam 36