Hartlepool Rovers were good value for their second league win of the season, six tries bringing them a 38-5 victory at Ponteland on Saturday.
Had it not been for a momentary lapse near the end, the Whites would have had a shut-out to go alongside their try-scoring bonus point, but given their variable form of late this result would certainly have been taken at kick-off.
The win moves Rovers up a place to 10th in Durham Northumberland One and, after this week’s free Saturday, they have the chance, when they host bottom club Whitby, to climb at least two places if other results that day go their way.
This was a true team performance with the starting XV and the three substitutes all playing their part in the win and which reflected a stronger work ethic and team spirit than of late.
Ponteland were, arguably, the poorest of the clubs faced this season but a team can only beat what’s put in front of them and the hosts more than had parity in the possession stakes. Their backs looked to run everything and bravely continued to do so to the bitter end, only to come up against the immovable defence that belonged to Rovers.
The switching of Stephen Railton to full back and the return of Liam Austwicke produced a much sharper edge to Rovers’ attack and Alex Rochester and Ryan Foreman teamed up well at halfback.
Up front, the pack did well in the scrum and breakdowns but need to improve their lineout drills and the team, collectively, need to reduce the penalty count. A whopping 18 were conceded on Saturday and Rovers were lucky Mr Minto didn’t produce a yellow card or two
For the second week running, Foreman gave Rovers a great start, darting to the line after seven minutes from the home 22 after skipper Andrew Dring had charged upfield from the base of a Rovers’ scrum.
Rovers then enjoyed a purple patch of possession and pressure but which brought no points and they then had to endure a similar spell under the cosh deep in their own half as Ponteland took the game to them only to meet the tremendous defensive work that was a feature of Rovers’ afternoon.
A great take by Austwicke from a high Ponteland kick on 37 minutes saw the centre head upfield and although he might have made the line on his own, he drew the last man and put Patrick O’Callaghan in at the right hand corner. Foreman kicked an excellent touchline conversion and Rovers led 12-0.
The Friaragemen turned defence into scintillating attack after 52 minutes to score their third try.
Liam Armstrong burst clear from his 22 and broke the gain line and brushed Oscar Redman aside as he straightened his line before Railton received to run in strongly from the Ponteland 22. Foreman’s conversion was good and the lead had grown to 19-0.
Five minutes later it was 26-0 with an Austwicke break setting up the pack and, when Tom Stead was stopped on the line, he offloaded to Aaron Jeffery who took a tackler over the whitewash with him by the right hand upright, Foreman slotting the front-on conversion.
The White Shirts now had the bonus point try and the game sewn up but they continued to press and were convinced that both Mark Burnside and Ian Flounders had grounded the ball in quick succession on 74 minutes. The resultant five metre scrum saw Armstrong control the ball at the base of the set piece before breaking off to touchdown for a 31-0 lead.
With a minute left of the 80, Ponteland got the score their efforts had deserved when Jack Spells went over from a catch and drive.
Rovers weren’t finished and Tom Stead was again the provider in added time when he gave the scoring pass on the line to Dylan Langley, Foreman’s extra points bringing the final whistle.
“This was a great team effort,” said player-coach Steve Smith after the match, “and which was reflected in the try count and result.
“Liam Wood for me was the man of the match with Liam Austwicke not far behind him.
“The front row had a strong 80 minutes and I enjoyed just being able to stand behind the posts and on the touchline coaching and managing the lads.
“The substitutions worked well for us today and showed that it’s a squad game.”
Ponteland: Redman, Chick, Marcus, Taylor, J Beswick, Lawson, Newbigin, Browne, Baron, Mew, Livingstone-Evans, Clark, Spells, McKenna (c), C Beswick. Subs used: Bettison, McAreavey, Shiells
Try: Spells 79
Penalties awarded 18, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 9; lineouts won 15, 2 stolen
Rovers: S Railton, Maguire, Austwicke, Burnside, O’Callaghan, Foreman, Rochester, I Flounders, T Stead, N Stead, Langley, Lloyd, Little, Wood, Dring (c). Subs used: Gunn, Jeffery, Armstrong
Tries: Foreman 7; Railton 37; O’Callaghan 37; Jeffery 52; Armstrong 74; Langley 80+1; conversions: Foreman 37, 52, 57, 80+1
Penalties awarded7, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 7; lineouts won 9, 1 stolen
Referee: Paul Minto (Northumberland)
Sent of: none; sin bin: none
Other results: Acklam 48 Gateshead 10; Barnard Castle 36 Novocastrians 32; Horden and Peterlee 5 Durham City 61; Stockton 31 Northern 50; West Hartlepool 55 Medicals 3; Whitby 15 South Shields Westoe 29