WEST Hartlepool made the perfect start to their National Three North programme – but only thanks to the heroics of the nerveless Stuart Waites.
West appeared to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory after frittering away what seemed a commanding 19-5 lead, Rupert Broadley finishing off a Sheffield backline move under the sticks in the 78th minute.
Andy Hodgson’s routine conversion gave the Yorkshire side the lead for the first time and West looked a beaten side.
But, don’t write off West, especially when they have the best left foot in the division.
Sheffield were penalised from the re-start following a high tackle, presenting Waites a last-gasp chance to steal the points which had looked in the bag 39 minutes earlier.
The full-back had not enjoyed the most successful of afternoons – landing two kicks out of five, though two of his misses had hit the post.
He was striking the ball well though, including one conversion from the left touchline.
And his skill and bottle did not let him down 40 seconds into added time as he struck his winning 30-metre kick from wide on the right between the posts at the clubhouse end.
It gave West a dramatic, but deserved, victory against a side touted as a promotion contender.
However, the drama did not end there.
Just as Zac Southern was kicking the ball into touch and referee Barrett Alwinkle was blowing the final whistle, West prop Jack Angus and Sheffield sub Dom Ramsden were trading punches 10 metres away in the middle of the pitch.
The violence threatened to spill over into a mass brawl but, thankfully, it was over as quickly as it had begun.
All seemed friendly again as the players shook hands instead of brandishing fists, but the Durham referee confirmed afterwards he had red-carded both main protagonists.
What a shame for Angus, who will presumably now have to serve a ban unless the Durham RFU disciplinary panel rule that the sending off is sufficient punishment.
The 20-year-old had played his part in a very strong front five effort, alongside Andrew Rollins, Adam Coates, Joe Rafferty and Chris Atkins as they sent the Sheffield pack backwards at a rate of knots.
Given the West pack was missing a number of key men, Saturday’s effort from a unit whose average age was only 24, will give the club a great deal of encouragement.
There was a lot of encouragement full stop, even if the Angus red card took some of the gloss off the afternoon.
Head coach Ian Dixon told SportMail: “I don’t think the scoreline necessarily reflected the game
“We thought we’d won it at half-time and we seemed to switch off in the second half.
“We needed our get out of jail free card and credit to Stu – what a fantastic kick from wide out.
“We were may be lucky to get it at the end but I thought we deserved the win.
“We scored some good tries and Sam Miller was outstanding – people struggle to stop him from 20 metres out and he’s unstoppable from five!
“He’s excellent and I thought Danny Boatman led the side well.
“I’m just a bit disappointed with our ill-discipline in the second half – we gave away too many penalties and lost too much ball.
“We let them back into it by our mistakes, though credit to Sheffield at the way they fought.”
West were almost ahead in the third minute but Luke Mallinson could not re-gather the ball when he kicked ahead.
But West only had to wait another three minutes. Miller was held from a five-metre scrum but Southern went through a gap in the away defence.
Inexplicably, he tried passing when he was inches from the line. But the ball rebounded kindly off a Sheffield defender and this time he fell over the line for a try which Waites converted from in front of the posts.
West gifted Sheffield their opening score on 20 minutes. The home pack had just destroyed a Sheffield scrum and the visitors duly lost possession.
But West kicked it away and Sheffield ran it to the right where Broadley scored the first of his two tries with a smart finish.
The hosts looked the superior side and they duly confirmed that with two Miller tries before half-time.
His first came when West opted for a five-metre scrum instead of a kick at goal, the teenager picking up at the base and charging through two tackles to score down the left.
Strong forward play laid the foundation for his second from further out, centre Peter Youll doing some fine work to move the ball left where the 18-year-old finished with aplomb. Waites converted with a majestic kick and a lead of 19-5 was the least West deserved.
However, the home side seemed to flick the ‘off’ switch at the interval and the second 40 minutes made for frustrating viewing.
Even after Hodgson had kicked a 57th-minute penalty, West looked in no danger, largely because Sheffield had barely won a line-out all day. Either the hooker could not get the ball in straight or Atkins or Boatman pinched the throw.
But when they started to find the men in blue and white hoops, scores followed.
From one line-out down the right in the 66th minute, possession was moved left and sub Ali Womack touched down wide out.
And two minutes from the end, West gave away a needless penalty, allowing Sheffield to kick top the 22-metre line.
They won the line-out and the backs handled slickly to put Broadley over. It looked as though West had thrown it away, but step forward Waites with his magical left foot.
West: Waites, Mallinson, A Cheslin, Youll, Tyers, Southern, Painter (Thomas 51), Angus, Rollins, Coates, Rafferty (Chapman 45), Atkins, Barker, Boatman, Miller. Sub: Wood
Tries: Southern 6; Miller 29, 39. Cons: Waites 6, 39. Pen: Waites 80
Penalties awarded: 12, kicked 1, missed 2; Line-outs won 9; Scrums won 11.
Sheffield: Hodgson, Broadley, McHale, Conville, Williams, Parker, Sturman, Marples, Kerr, Walls, Seabright, Fawdry, Bradshaw, T Womack, France. Subs used: Ramsden, Whitney, A Womack
Tries: Broadley 20, 78; A Womack 66. Con: Hodgson 78. Pen: Hodgson 57.
Penalties awarded: 11, kicked 1, missed 0; Line-outs won 8; Scrums won 7.
Referee: Barrett Alwinkle (Durham)
Sinbin: Bradshaw 64. Sent-off: Angus, Ramsden 80