Hartlepool Rovers turned in one of their better performances of the season as they closed their Durham Northumberland One campaign with a 41-19 win over Redcar at the Friarage on Saturday.
Redcar arrived already relegated, but they played their part in an end-of-season points-fest and made sure that the Whites didn’t have it all their own way.
If the previous week’s dismal showing in losing 24-8 at Ponteland was an example of Rovers at their worst, then Saturday’s six-try win was yet another example of the quality of rugby; team play and try-scoring that they are capable of.
The victory lifted Rovers back up to sixth place and so one spot below player-coach Steve Smith’s target of the top five but there is still a chance that Gateshead could reclaim sixth since they have games in hand.
In the longer-term, and with one eye on what will be another tough division next season, Rovers have to find a way of putting displays of this quality together with more frequency.
There is absolutely no reason why, on the strength of their better performances this season, Rovers can’t achieve a top four finish and, as part of their development plan, that should be the target for next season.
In front of a bumper last-day crowd, and in perfect conditions, Rovers went 3-0 ahead after only three minutes with a 28-metre penalty from Ryan Foreman.
Redcar were quick to counter, however, and Dominic Ayre dived over five minutes later with Daniel Addison’s conversion giving the visitors a 7-3 lead.
Foreman missed with a 42-metre three-pointer on 16 minutes but made amends by jinking over from close range after Billy Lloyd was just short from a Taz Pelser tap penalty and Rovers had regained the lead 8-7.
Tyrone Church then made two breaks in quick succession and from the latter he found Jack Gunn in support to receive and run in from 12 metres out and the lead had increased to 13-7.
The Friaragemen were tending to force things a little but went close with Chrissy Harrison and Michael Railton putting in some good runs.
Rovers took their foot off the gas after 38 minutes and, in an instant, the Mariners attacked in the Railway Corner. Matthew Curry was held but recycled ball saw Neil Young cross in the Steetley Corner, Addison kicking the touchline conversion, the visitors retaking the lead 14-13.
Rovers started the second half on the attack with Joe Little punching his way through the defensive line, brushing off two tacklers to pop the ball up for Gunn to get his second try and Foreman’s wide-out conversion saw the lead switch hands again, Rovers now 20-14 up.
Gunn then turned provider when he broke upfield from a lineout on halfway and an inside pass gave sub Daz Fawcett the chance to dummy his opposite number Richie Young and go under the posts and he easily converted for a 27-14 lead.
It was then two tries in four minutes with a superb length-of-the-pitch move.
Pelser started things off when he picked up an over-thrown Redcar lineout on the Rovers’ five metre line. The scrum half made it to half way with Gunn and Michael Railton then inter-passing before Pelser received the ball back and he ran at pace before slipping a pass to Steven Railton to touch
down. Fawcett kicked the extra points and Rovers led 34-14.
Rovers found themselves under the cosh and the pressure told on the hour mark with some defence-stretching long passes putting Addison in at the left hand clubhouse corner to cut Rovers’ lead to 34-19.
After a quiet spell, the White Shirts sprang to life on 72 minutes with another very good try. Fawcett and Pelser combined well and they found Michael Railton who had much to do being hemmed in by the right hand touchline and with two defenders to beat but he powered to the line and Foreman’s conversion made it 41-19.
Gunn burst clear with time nearly up in search of his hat-trick but knocked-on in contact.
Rovers’ boss Steve Smith was pleased to end the season with a win.
“I thought our fitness told again and our scrummage held up well,” he said.
“We left some points out on the pitch and should have had a better first half but it was good to put on a show for the fans and show what we can do.
“AJ (Aaron Jeffery) had an excellent game, building on some good displays for the Heughers, as did Jack (Gunn) and Squid (Kevin Maguire).
We’ve shown how well we can play, it’s now up to everyone to commit and build for next season.”
Rovers: M Railton, S Railton, Kirton, Gunn, C Harrison, Foreman, Pelser, S Smith (c), Maguire, Lloyd, Langley, Little, Jeffery, Church, Dring. Subs used: Cookland, Fawcett, Wood
Tries: Gunn 28, 43; Foreman 20; Fawcett 51; S Railton 55; M Railton 72; conversions: Foreman 42, 72; Fawcett 51,55; penalty: Foreman 3
Penalties awarded 7, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 8, 1 against the head; lineouts won 6, 2 stolen
Redcar: Addison, Barker, Dixon, Duddles, Curry, R Young (c), Stovell, Nicholas, Tucker, Briggs, N Young, Reader, Ayre, Dyball, Cochrane. Subs used: Bryce, Butler
Tries: Ayre 8; N Young 38; Addison 60; conversions: Addison 8, 38
Penalties awarded 8, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 6, 1 against the head; lineouts won 10
Referee: Andrew Purves (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: Langley 66; Wood 77
Other results: Consett 29 Stockton 13; Durham City 41 Horden and Peterlee 12; Gosforth 27 Barnard Castle 60; Medicals 48 Gateshead 24; Novocastrians 17 South Shields Westoe 59; Ponteland 31 Guisborough 17