Hartlepool Rovers suffered a horror-showing in the second half to lose 48-12 at promotion favourites South Shields Westoe.
The margin of defeat was hard to take for Rovers, who had led 7-0 and 12-5 and didn’t trail until the third minute of added time in the first half.
The result was also a bitter blow after the brilliant second half comeback in the previous week’s 22-13 home win over Horden and Peterlee.
In the first period, the Whites had played on the front foot and taken the game to Westoe and who, like Horden, started to make mistakes and found themselves penned in their own half.
The problem for Rovers was that they went in at the break 15-12 down and having been on the rough end of the refereeing decisions by conceding 11 penalties to two and maybe were feeling not only hard-done to, but a bit down as the second half got under way.
In a flash, the deficit had increased to 27-12 and there was to be no way back as Rovers showed signs of mental and physical disintegration.
All of a sudden the confidence with the ball in hand and their defensive steel evaporated.
The first 40 minutes showed that Rovers have the ability to compete with the clubs likely to be in contention for promotion.
A rugby match, however, lasts 80 minutes and the league campaign 26 matches and it is those twin facts that Rovers need to take on board.
Rovers couldn’t have got off to a better start, taking a 7-0 lead with less than a minute on the clock.
Pressure on the home centres saw the ball go loose and Steven Barnfield hacked on with Chrissy Harrison picking up two metres out and diving over the line and then adding the extra points.
Rovers then found themselves under the cosh and conceded a try on 12 minutes when skipper Andrew Kirton charged down Harrison’s clearance kick and dropped on the ball.
The visitors went 12-5 up when David Grand was on hand to pick off a loose pass to storm away to the right hand corner.
With Jamie Montgomery yellow-carded, Rovers leaked a try when they failed to clear their lines and Andy Sutherland stole in at the left hand corner, Jake Arnold’s conversion making the score 12-12.
Harrison went wide with a 20-metre penalty on 28 minutes but Sutherland made no mistake in stoppage time to give Westoe a half time 15-12 lead.
A quick double after 42 and 45 minutes with Mark McMahon receiving at speed to streak away to the line and Sam Gaff benefitting from a knock-on to score, Sutherland adding the conversion to the latter try, made it 27-12.
With a, now, comfortable lead, the Tynesiders started to play a more expansive game and the Friaragemen suffered for it.
Another two tries in three minutes saw full back Louis Hagan run in from a scrum on the 22 and some defensive indecision left a huge gap for Sean Ramsay to exploit a double conversion by Sutherland making the lead 41-12.
It was hard to believe that Rovers had shipped 26 unanswered points after such a good first half and, struggling to get out of their own half, Gaff crossed for his brace, Sutherland again converting for the final score of 48-12.
The White Shirts’ coach Steve Smith was left to reflect on a game of two halves.
“I thought we stuck to our game plan in the first half, took the ball forward and carried it well although we could, maybe, have been more convincing,” he said.
“In rugby, though, you have to react to what’s in front of you, where the ball is and what it’s doing and we failed to do that after half time.
“I thought Callum (Whitehead) led the side well and the tackle count by Tyrone (Church) was outstanding.
“I’m looking for a reaction to this result in training this week because Gosforth next week is massive.”