Hartlepool Rovers overcame an awkward Ryton side 15-3 in a dour clash at the Friarage.
Rovers had started the day one place and three points behind the visitors in the Durham Northumberland One table and so, even this early in the season, it was a pivotal game for both clubs.
The win has lifted Rovers two places and another at Stockton in next week’s local derby could take the Whites into the top half with Gosforth then next up at the Friarage before rugby takes a break for the World Cup Final.
Saturday’s clash was a dour affair, however, with an horrendous number of handling errors afflicting Rovers and restricting their chances to get a try-scoring bonus point.
The scrum count of 19 to Ryton shows how much possession was handed over by Rovers to what was a huge away pack. Thanks to that match statistic Ryton remained in touch until Matty Stephenson’s 69th minute try effectively settled the outcome.
Rovers’ defence was rock-solid and Ryton’s attacking threat – despite the massive away eight - fairly limited meaning that a solitary Lewis Barr three-pointer were the only points leaked in what was a solid display.
The home forwards enjoyed the upper-hand in the loose and at the lineout and so were able to provide the backs the front-foot ball denied them in the scrummage.
Rovers were able to continually threaten to break through the Ryton defence only to come up short with poor ball-handling and protection. The signs are there that a breakthrough big win is there and all it will take will be higher confidence and some better decision-making plus a little bit of luck.
The first half followed the pattern of Rovers’ last two matches against Ponteland and Novocastrians with play being largely a forward battle between the two 22’s.
Both sides were guilty of failing to protect the ball in the contact area and when passing and so scoring was limited to one try.
Rovers had enjoyed some good driving play and, employing the tap and go from an 18 metre penalty after 22 minutes, skipper Andrew Dring powered to within five metres of the line where Callum Whitehead was helped over the whitewash in the Railway Corner.
James Evens was wide with the conversion attempt and missed with a long-range penalty three minutes into added time.
Ryton started the second half on the attack and Barr slotted an easy 12 metre penalty on 44 minutes to reduce Rovers’ lead to 5-3.
The Friaragemen looked set to score three minutes later when the pack mauled to the line from an attacking lineout but were penalised when Whitehead and Lee Maddison collided.
At the other end of the pitch, Chrissy Harrison’s tap tackle on giant second row Andrew Rodenby saved a score.
Barr missed with a 38 metre penalty on 57 minutes and Rovers used the let-off to increase their lead to 10-3 with their second try.
Whitehead’s barnstorming 30 metre break up the middle saw the pack continue onto the line where the ball was popped up to Evens to touchdown for an unconverted try.
Rovers then went 15-3 ahead after 69 minutes with a superb try.
A turnover in midfield when Maddison sacked sub, and former Rover, Adam Williamson saw Stephenson break and his swerving run took him into the 22 where he exchanged passes with the supporting Maddison to beat full back Andrew Oxley and touchdown in the tight hand clubhouse corner.
Jack Gunn had a late chance from a strike against the head by Andrew Flounders but could not take the pass when well placed.
“It was a funny game today,” said coach Carl Robinson afterwards, “I can’t fault the effort by the players again but we’re just not managing to convert the amount of ball we have into the tries and points that we deserve.
“The discipline was much, much better. We had talked through the week and before the match about the discipline within the team and also about respecting the referee and I think we were very good in this respect.
“We pressurised Ryton, forcing them to make mistakes and fronted well in the forward battle.
“Dringy (Andrew Dring) is getting back to form after a year and a half out and the front five have gelled really well. Callum (Whitehead) took his try well and Matty (Stephenson) is beginning to impose himself at scrum-half and he and Maddo (Lee Maddison) supported each other for the last try.”
Rovers: Harrison, S Flounders, Gunn, Grand, O’Callaghan, Evens, Stephenson, A Flounders, Maguire, Pinchen, Langley, Whitehead, Wood, Maddison, Dring (c). Subs used: J Little, Wise, Church
Tries: Whitehead 22; Evens 60; Stephenson 69
Penalties awarded 9, kicked 0, missed 1; scrums won 5, 1 against the head; lineouts won 13
Ryton: Oxley, R Smith, McCarten, Brown (c), McCoy, Barr, Scott, Hardy, Simpson, Aucott, Armstrong, Rodenby, Hamilton, Cork, H Smith. Subs used: Ward, Brent, Williamson
Penalty: Barr 44 Penalties awarded 11, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 19, 3 against the head; lineouts won 5
Referee: Paul Musgrave (Durham)
Sent off: none; sin bin: McCoy 80+2
Other results: Consett 41 Gateshead 17; Darlington 24 Acklam 51; Durham City 43 Ponteland 0; Horden 37 Gosforth 26; Medicals 24 Novocastrians 29; Middlesbrough 36 Stockton 13