HARTLEPOOL Rovers slumped to defeat at Gosforth to drop a place to fourth in Durham Northumberland One.
Durham City’s big 54-12 win at Stockton has seen them leapfrog Rovers who are two points behind City; nine behind second-placed Guisborough and ten adrift of leaders Morpeth whose home game with Blyth was postponed.
Rovers suffered a hangover from the previous week’s poor display at Blyth and simply weren’t at the races against a spirited Gosforth side.
The Whites, despite playing badly, had done enough to take a 15-8 victory at Plessey Road but turned in an even worse performance at Bullocksteads to leave without even a bonus point, the second week running Rovers have drawn a blank.
Daz Fawcett limped off part-way through the first half to make the injury and unavailability list at the Friarage even longer. But that can’t be blamed for another poor display from Rovers who with similar line ups had beaten Darlington and Consett and should have disposed of Durham City.
There was an unhappy return to action for Stewart Grazier who stepped up from the bench to replace Danny Baxter. The number eight had only played one previous game this season in the defeat at Medicals but had crossed the whitewash twice that day to give the travelling support hope that he would energise a XV that had stuttered at Blyth.
Rovers made two serious – catastrophic some would say – errors of judgement to effectively hand control to the hosts.
Gosforth fielded a team broadly similar in size and stature to Rovers but their pack committed themselves in numbers at the breakdowns and dominated the scrummage. Rovers, however, as at Blyth, bordered on the obsessive in taking the home eight on and allowed themselves to be bullied out of the game.
Rovers, in doing so, failed to provide any quality ball to their three-quarters with the wingmen David Grand and Adam Smith, with 14 tries between them this season, starved of the ball. When the backs ran at Gosforth the home defence didn’t look that confident but they were given too easy an afternoon.
Too many players were guilty of hiding, under-performing and ill-discipline and, against a Gosforth side that had shown its credentials by winning at Stockton and beating Darlington and Durham City at home, these were also contributory factors.
Gosforth dominated the opening ten minutes keeping the visitors inside their own 22 but Rovers’ defence held out and they then raced to the opposite end of the pitch where a forward pass halted a promising move.
The hosts were getting the rub of the green from some of ref John Ash’s decisions and over the 80 minutes would dominate the scrum and lineout stats to help to deprive Rovers of the ball.
Some poor handling let Gosforth down at a five-metre scrum on 17 minutes and they then had a try disallowed when tighthead John Coffey clearly grounded the ball after a hack through only for a 22 drop-out to be awarded.
Home stand-off Mark Anderson landed a 35-metre penalty on 29 minutes.
Rovers then had a let off when Mr Ash blew for a debatable crossing by the Gosforth centres on the 22 and this allowed Rovers to put in the best move of the game. Steven Barnfield, Grand and Jack Gunn combined well before Ben Little and Andrew Founders took play to 15 metres out wining a penalty.
Sub Connor White took lineout ball and a pack drive to the line saw Matty Wilson touchdown to give Rovers a 5-3 lead from their first real pressure.
Gosforth’s number nine Mitchell Ashman was proving to be dangerous with the ball in-hand and his box-kicking and he sent his pack driving forward from the 22 to the line where he slipped the scoring pass to Chris Daly, Anderson added the extra points to hand the lead back to Gosforth 10-5 at half time.
A turnover and break by Lee Maddison and then Andrew Flounders brought a penalty and a kick to the corner but after Gunn was held the next play brought a knock-on.
The Friaragemen had a let-off on 51 minutes when another massive shunt by the home forwards set up Dave Rhodes who was held up by a double tackle by Little and sub James Fleet.
This was only temporary relief as Adam Bell’s line-out catch produced another pack drive and Rhodes wasn’t going to be denied a second time. Anderson added the extra points for an ominous 17-5 lead.
Maddison, Andrew Flounders and Grazier rampaged forward but the pack were pushed off their put in at the five-metre scrum.
Maddison then sacked Ashman after 67 minutes to set up a penalty chance but Michael Barnfield’s 24-metre kick went wide.
Gosforth extended their lead to 22-5 on 70 minutes as their passion, effort and team-play brought another forwards’ try for Bell.
There was late pressure from Rovers that allowed Michael Barnfield to drop a 30-metre goal on 76 minutes to give Rovers a slim hope of getting within bonus point distance but Gosforth ended the match back on Rovers’ line where a knock-on brought the final whistle.
“We were beaten by eight forwards,” said joint coach Carl Robinson. “Their pack was very good and maybe the fact that we have such a young side showed up.
“We had no fluidity and were too slow, we need to get back to playing the type of rugby that saw us go on that winning run.”
“The support play by Gosforth stood out for me,” continued Graham Puckrin.
“They had the rolling maul off to a fine art and it’s very difficult to defend against it these days.
“We also found ourselves bullied off the ball at the rucks by not having enough players in there and failed to protect and present the ball anywhere like good enough.”
Gosforth: Gillespie, Jones, P Smith, Hawthorn, Raffo, Anderson, Ashman, Woodhams, Robinson, Coffey, Rhodes, Venning, Axup, Bell, Daly (c). Subs used: Hall, Black, Levinson
Tries Daly 40+3; Rhodes 55; Bell 70; conversions: Anderson 40+3, 55; penalty: Anderson 29
Penalties awarded 13, kicked 1, missed 1; scrums won 15; lineouts won 15
Rovers: Harrison, Grand, Gunn, M Barnfield, A Smith, Fawcett, S Barnfield, A Flounders (c), Maguire, Little, Langley, Wilson, Church, Maddison, Grazier. Subs used: I Flounders, White, Fleet
Try: Wilson 35. Drop goal: M Barnfield 76
Penalties awarded 14, kicked 0, missed 1; scrums won 8, 1 against the head; lineouts won 10
Referee: John Ash (Northumberland)
Sent off: none; sin bin: none
Other results: Consett P Novos P; Medicals 10 Guisborough 55; Morpeth P Blyth P; Ryton P Darlington P; Stockton 12 Durham City 54; Sunderland P Gateshead P