Hartlepool Rovers slump to another home defeat after defensive demons return against Stockton

West hartlepool RFC (red/green/white) v Northern (white) at Brinkburn, Hartlepool, on Saturday.
West hartlepool RFC (red/green/white) v Northern (white) at Brinkburn, Hartlepool, on Saturday.

Hartlepool Rovers’ poor form at Grangefield shows no sign of ending any time soon after slumping to a 38-24 defeat to Stockton on Saturday.

It’s now four successive losses and, on the evidence of this display, the Whites need to take a serious look at themselves.

A look at the match stats shows that whilst the, hoped for, improvement in discipline occurred, the hosts enjoyed double the set-piece possession and ran in six tries to four so ultimately nothing was gained by a much-reduced penalty count.

Defensively Rovers were poor. There have been games this season when Rovers’ defence has been exceptional but there were too many periods, and not for the first time, on Saturday when Stockton looked set to score every time they had the ball.

In the first half this was actually the case, the visitors leaking three converted tries to trail 21-0 at half time.

There was some improvement in their defensive mettle after the break but on two occasions Rovers, criminally, leaked tries within three minutes of scoring themselves to undo all of their good work.

There was little to write home about in attack for all four tries were scored to give Rovers a bonus point that they just about deserved.

There was no out and out pace and when the pack had played several phases to set up an attacking platform more often than not the next pass went to ground.

The ball-carrying of Danny Charters and Tom Stead were positives for Rovers and sub James Evens, in his first game since last September improved things in the backs but there was not enough support for him.

As against West the previous week, Rovers gave their opponents a 20+ points’ start to effectively leave them chasing the game and playing, perhaps, for bonus points only.

After Rovers had fluffed a great chance on seven minutes, Steve Jones struck the crossbar with a 48-metre penalty only for Rovers to lose the ball and Liam Healey broke away and shrugged off several tackles to score in the left hand corner. Thornton nailed the touchline conversion and Stockton led 7-0.

Rovers looked to have all bases covered when Steven Barnfield nailed Steve Tampin in midfield but Stockton kept the ball alive and moments later Charlie Doherty ran some 30 metres to the line, Jones’ conversion doubling the lead to 14-0.

Stockton then squandered a good chance and one also went begging for Patrick O’Callaghan who read a pass to three overlapping players but couldn’t hold onto the ball with a clear run upfield.

Stockton went in at the interval 21-0 to the good when, after veteran Simon Crozier had been held up, Todd Highfield went over following a five metre scrum, Jones again adding the extras.

After the break the Friaragemen were quick out of the blocks and managed to score despite being picked off at a lineout five metres out when Aaron Jeffery was able to steal the ball back.

Three minutes later, some woeful tackling allowed Steve Bartliff to beat three men to cross in the left hand corner, Jones’ conversion making it 28-5.

A great break out of defence by Ian Flounders saw him race upfield, Stead kept the move going and, when tackled, returned the ball to the loosehead to touchdown after 52 minutes.

A forward pass by Scott Powell to Bartliff saved another score but Stockton laid siege to the away tryline and the home eight used a spell of advantage to play the phases and wait for an opening. This duly came on 68 minutes with Tampin squeezing over for a 33-10 lead.

Rovers hit back and some simple tactics of the pick and go and well-timed passing after 72 minutes put Jack Gunn in by the right hand corner flag. Fawcett kicked the touchline conversion and Stockton’s lead had been cut to 33-17.

Within three minutes it was 38-17 to the Teessiders when a slick handling move across the pitch put Max Thompson in. Rovers hit straight back with a good pass and line run by Joe Little putting him in by the posts, Fawcett converting.