Rovers beat Novos but lack killer touch

RUNNING MEN: Rovers charge for the try line.
RUNNING MEN: Rovers charge for the try line.

HARTLEPOOL Rovers earned their first double of the season with a 27-10 victory over Novocastrians at the Friarage.

The Whites started the match on fire and had scored three tries in the first 24 minutes but then had scoring lulls with a long wait for their next tries on 52 and 60 minutes and which were followed by a another points drought.

The object of any team in league rugby is to secure a try-scoring bonus point win and Rovers succeeded in this.

Mission accomplished, the hosts should have then kicked on and put Novos to the sword and boosted their points for figure and points difference.

Rovers, though, lacked the killer-instinct needed to really hammer home their advantage and squandered the scoring chances that would have added another three or four tries at the very least.

At some stage Rovers will click and complete a demolition job and turn good results into very good ones. Getting a settled side onto the pitch will start that process.

Novos were no mugs and with more support for their ball carriers, especially the elusive-running Jonny Ward and James Bass they could have got much closer to Rovers.

For Rovers, Liam Austwicke produced a number of his trademark runs from full-back and some excellent tackles and Adam Smith, after a few matches with limited ball, was back to form with a brace.

Up front, skipper Andrew Flounders once again led by example and he was helped by hooker Kevin Maguire who seemed to pop up all the time and all over the pitch while Anthony Hanley put in a good shift in the second row.

Both flankers, Tyrone Church and Liam Wood had good games and number eight Stewart Grazier was his usual effective ball-carrying self and will be even more dangerous as his fitness, having missed most of the season so far, improves.

The Friaragemen got off to a great start and led 7-0 after only two minutes.

Immediately putting Novos under pressure, Grazier and Maguire charged to within five metres of the line and recycled ball was then flung through the backs’ hands. It reached Austwicke who sliced through the cover to cross in the railway corner, Chris Sainty kicking the touchline conversion.

Novos hit back and stand-off Matthew Kilgore used his right boot to good effect. A chip over the top for Sam Busby saw the winger just beaten to the ball by Steven Barnfield and his next diagonal kick created a try.

The chasing Bass was up against two home players and when the ball went loose the number 11 gathered to run home.

The home backs were on fire and on 16 minutes a great handling move featuring Sainty, Gunn and Austwicke saw the ball hit Smith 10 metres out and who finished in style. Sainty could not match his earlier conversion but Rovers led 12-5.

Rovers then found themselves in trouble of their own making as they allowed Ward to run at them but turned desperate defence into attack in breath-taking fashion to score a brilliant try after 24 minutes.

Smith was penned inside his 22 and looked to have nowhere to go. He cut inside off his touchline and some determined and evasive running saw him make 30 metres across and up the field with Church receiving and passing in one movement to Grazier who galloped down the right wing from the Novos’ 10 metre line to touchdown in the Steetley corner to extend the lead to 17-5.

Austwicke and Ben Cushlow broke up the Oakes Stand flank on 36 minutes with play switching to the opposite wing where Smith was halted five metres out.

Somehow Rovers contrived not to take that chance and a further four openings from the next phase of play.

A minute into the second half, Ward turned defence into attack with a mazy 80 metre run and Rovers then had to endure a lengthy spell of Novos’ pressure before countering to score their bonus point try.

Smith had been thrown a wayward pass when he had a clear run to the line but a disrupted scrum saw Flounders and Michael Tucker hauled down before Barnfield broke blind and Smith just squeezed in at the left-hand corner flag.

The lead increased to 27-5 on the hour mark when Grazier dribbled the ball at a five-metre scrum and then popped up a sideways pass for Barnfield to ghost in.

The White Shirts had a let off when Stewart intercepted a long pass from Evens but couldn’t hold onto the ball and another when Ward sent Bass clear and set for the line only for Smith to chase him down and pull off a try-saving tackle.

Ward got a deserved consolation try for himself and his team in added time to conclude the scoring.

“We scored two cracking tries early doors and all of a sudden we thought it was going to be easy,” said coach Carl Robinson. “But then realised it wasn’t.

“We should have had 60 points and had we played some basic rugby at vital times instead of some glory-seeking then maybe we would.

“Ty’s (Church) tackle count was awesome and he got through a lot of unseen work in the loose as well as taking some good line-out ball.

“As is always the case with us, next Saturday’s free week has come at the wrong time but we’ll just have to get on with it”

“We were always in control,” added coach Graham Puckrin, “but we gave the ball away too easily and didn’t protect it enough. Our ball retention was poor.

“Novos aren’t a bad team and worked to the end.

“They also showed that our fitness, which I would have rated as good, could be improved a level or two and that can only help our play.”

Rovers: Austwicke, B Cushlow, Sainty, Gunn, Smith, Evens, S Barnfield, A Flounders (c), Maguire, Tucker, Baxter, Hanley, Church, Wood, Grazier. Subs used: Grand, Foster, Langley

Tries: Smith 16, 52; Austwicke 2; Grazier 24; Barnfield 60. Con: Sainty 2

Penalties awarded 7, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 8, 1 against the head; lineouts won 12

Novos: Ward, Busby, Hazell, Stewart, Bass, Kilgore, Harrison, Goodman, Twentyman, Stacey, Wallace, Spoor, Wilson, Merrett, Littlefair (c). Subs used: Dodds, Menzfield, Kay

Tries: Busby 10; Ward 80+2

Penalties awarded 4, kicked 0, missed 0; scrums won 6; lineouts won 10

Referee: Carl Hall (Durham)

Sin bin: Ward 52

Other results: Blyth 0 Stockton 29; Consett P Sunderland P; Darlington 17 Gateshead 41; Durham City 31 Gosforth 8; Guisborough 74 Ryton 3; Medicals 17 Morpeth 40