West Hartlepool seek third straight league win at Middlesbrough

GREAT FORM: Ryan Painter
GREAT FORM: Ryan Painter

DIRECTOR of Rugby Kevan Oliphant will again look to West Hartlepool’s miserly defence to lay the groundwork for a third league win on the spin.

West, second in North One East after back-to-back victories over Northern and Morpeth, head to Middlesbrough tomorrow in confident mood (kick-off 3pm).

Their confidence is built on statistics which show nine tries scored and only one conceded in 160 minutes of league rugby.

And Oliphant believes if they keep up their defensive strength they will stay at the right end of the table.

“It’s still very early,” said the 46-year-old. “But, two games in and with two wins, you could not ask for much more.

“We did not concede a try at Northern and it looked as though we might go through last Saturday’s win over Morpeth without them scoring, but they got one a couple of minutes before the end.

“Scoring tries was an issue last season, but we have nine so far.

“And defensively, we’ve only conceded one, so we deserve our two wins out of two on those stats alone.

“Our defence has been excellent – we’re pressurising the opposition into making mistakes and there have been very few missed first-up tackles.

“But things are going well all over the park.

“Our scrummaging has been tremendous, going forward we are scoring tries and the backline has clicked with Stuey [Waites] performing well at 10.

“We have got to look to maintain the standards we have set in the first two games.

“If we do that, then we are going to be very competitive.”

West have been forced into three changes with Liam Bailey and Ryan Painter unavailable in the backs and Ross Wood ruled out in the front row.

It is a blow for coaches Iain Dixon and Peter Robinson to have to tweak the backline.

Both Painter and Bailey have impressed in the early weeks of the campaign.

West could have moved Waites to scrum-half but have instead plumped for the versatile Colin Cheslin, who is better known for his play from full-back or on the wing.

Oliphant said: “Col played very well at nine at Waterloo last season and is a good rugby player.

“It would have been nice to have Roo [Painter] in the team but we’ve every confidence in Col.”

Another Mr Versatile, Greg Edwards, a good performer either at centre or on the wing, plays alongside Andrew Cheslin in the midfield.

Up front, Ian Pinchen, who has missed the opening two league wins after being hurt in the friendly win over Horden, comes in for Wood.

Middlesbrough have one win out of two to date and Oliphant rates it as a “difficult game”.

The director of rugby added: “Boro still have the excellent Simon Moore in their side and some good young players around him.”

Owen Bennett and Tom Armstrong have recovered from injury to come onto the West bench.

West: L Mallinson, S Butcher, A Cheslin, G Edwards, P Youll, S Waites, C Cheslin, I Pinchen, A Rollins, A Coates, M Hogan, D Boatman (capt), C Atkins, J Boatman, S Miller. Subs: A Dixon, O Bennett, T Armstrong