Hartlepool Rovers suffer heavy defeat at Durham City

West Hartlepool RFC (hoops) v Whitby RFC (burgundy) at Brinkburn, Hartlepool on Saturday.
West Hartlepool RFC (hoops) v Whitby RFC (burgundy) at Brinkburn, Hartlepool on Saturday.

Hartlepool Rovers suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of league leaders Durham City at the New Friarage on Saturday.

The Whites had lost 48-14 at Hollow Drift in the reverse fixture last November and so have fallen to a heavy double over their long-standing Durham County rivals.

There was talk after this mauling that the defeat might well be one of the heaviest, if not the biggest, home league loss that Rovers have suffered.

The bottom line is that Rovers, or any side worth its salt, should not be losing to this extent no matter who is the opposition.

Home advantage has to mean something and the New Friarage used to be a superb fortress and Durham City once, but no longer, it would appear, had a reputation for being defeated even before kick-off.

To some extent, Saturday’s match bore significant similarity to that on City’s home turf when Rovers led for a while before slipping behind and then suffering badly in the closing stages. Saturday’s game saw the hosts lead after only two minutes; then fail to turn some excellent pressure into further tries before imploding in the final quarter-a period in which Durham scored five converted tries without reply.

At the root of the problem for the Friaragemen is a lengthy unavailability list. The 11 names on Saturday fell below the monster 15 for the defeat at Acklam but were still far too many for a team to expect to compete at this level.

Rovers actually had a great start and some superb handling saw Stephen Railton touchdown in the Railway Corner.

There was then controversy when City’s kicker Paul Armstrong’s front-on penalty was flagged as a miss by the linesmen but given by Mr Mackinder.

The restart kick failed to go 10 metres and City used the set piece to fashion a 3-1 overlap for Craig Dominick to steal in and City led 8-5.

Rovers then failed to finish off any of their surges to the line in a five minute spell of pressure and City extended their lead on 23 minutes with Nathan Bushnell breaking from his own 22, chipping the cover and regaining the ball to race away and go under the posts. Armstrong slotted the extras and what might have been a 12-8 home lead was a 15-5 lead for Durham.

Daz Fawcett went wide with a 15 metre three-pointer after 28 minutes and City held out against more Rovers’ pressure before kicking out of defence and seeing Arnie Stevenson run 30 metres to the line on 34 minutes for a 20-5 lead.

Alex Rochester pulled three points back with a well struck 34 metre penalty three minutes later to cut the deficit to 20-8 at the break.

After only two minutes from the start of the second period, the lead reached 25-8 when number eight Peter Dent crossed from an attacking lineout 10 metres out.

An even spell followed before City went 32-8 up after 59 minutes when another piece of good scrummage ball went along the line to Gary Izomor who ran in from 20 metres out, Armstrong defying the strong wind to kick the touchline conversion.

The White Shirts’ defence was stretched on 68 minutes when Brad Pears scythed through the line to score despite a brave chase by Adam Smith, Armstrong again converting for a 39-8 lead.

Rovers then tried to run out of defence only to be turned over and Dent strolled in with some ease, Armstrong converting.

The home defence then went awol after 79 minutes with Dominick also notching a brace, Armstrong again on target as he was in stoppage time when Izomor ran back a missed touch kick and Bushnell finished off the move for his second try and a final scoreline of 60-8.

“For the first 50 minutes I thought things were pretty evenly matched,” said player-coach Steve Smith afterwards, “even though we trailed 25-8.

“We paid the price for not finishing off some excellent pressure and the wheels came off a bit at the end, ironically just as happened at their place.

“I thought Liam Wood put in a full shift and Tyrone Church’s tackle count for a stand-in scrum half was awesome.

“Tom and Neil Stead also had good games, especially in the loose, and were unlucky not to get any tries.”

Rovers: Rochester, A Smith, S Railton, Kirton, O’Callaghan, Fawcett, Church (c), N Stead, T Stead, Lloyd, Rayner, D Smith, Little, Wood, Whitehead. Subs used: S Smith, Bird, Dring

Try: Railton 2; penalty: Rochester 37

Penalties awarded 11, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 9; lineouts won 6, 1 stolen

Durham City: Bushnell, Izomor, Pears, Dominick, Elliott, Stevenson, Armstrong (c), Amir, Reader, Parkinson, Showler, Wilson, Dias, Jewitt, Dent. Subs used: Hogg, Scott, Johnson

Tries: Dominick 10, 79; Dent 42, 74; Bushnell 23, 80+3; Stevenson 34; Izomor 59; Pears 68; conversions: Armstrong 23, 59, 68, 74, 79, 80+3; penalty: Armstrong 8 Penalties awarded 5, kicked 1, missed 0; scrums won 11; lineouts won 5

Referee: Alex Mackinder (Durham Society)

Sent off: none; sin bin: none

Other results: Medicals 49 Barnard Castle 26; Northern 57 Acklam 12; Novocastrians 38 Horden and Peterlee 17; South Shields Westoe 42 Gateshead 13; Stockton 48 Ponteland 23; West Hartlepool 78 Whitby 0.