West Hartlepool 31 Driffield 25 heag

Carl Miller tries to drive through
Carl Miller tries to drive through

HE just can’t stop scoring – Gareth Foreman looks like leading West Hartlepool to promotion almost single handedly.

The in-form number 10 followed up a record 41 points in the 91-13 rout of Durham City with 21 in the nervy win over Driffield on Saturday.

Foreman ran in a brilliant hat-trick to make it nine tries in the last three matches and he added three conversions in a virtuoso display to keep a jittery West top of North One East.

Of course, West’s success is not all down to one man – Foreman would be the first to say that he’s only been able to do it “with a little help from my friends” to quote the old Beatles and Joe Cocker song title.

But where would West be without the 28-year-old? Not top of the league, that is for sure.

Granted, middle brother Andrew has been a key cog in the West machine this season since moving to Brinkburn with Gareth last summer.

But Gareth has been like a breath of fresh air in the West backline, providing a positive attacking edge to their play which was sadly lacking last season – plus plenty of pace.

Throw in the fact he is a brilliant finisher and Gareth Foreman has been worth his weight in gold.

And it was his finishing skills which proved the difference between victory and a costly first home defeat of the season.

His fifth-minute opener was a stunning individual score and his second was a simple run-in under the same posts.

But his hat-trick score in the 73rd minute summed up not just his finishing qualities, but his winning attitude.

Eleven minutes from time, Gareth had flung out a long pass intended for West’s wide men in the away 22, as they chased a match-clinching score and a bonus point for getting a fourth try.

Driffield skipper Ali McClarron though was one step ahead. He intercepted the ball and ran 80 metres to score under the same sticks Gareth had made his own in the first period.

It completed a remarkable Driffield fightback from 18-3 down to lead 25-21.

As McClarron raced upfield, West trudged dejectedly back to the halfway line and, following their poor middle hour, the championship favourites looked there for the taking.

But step forward Foreman.

West were not afraid to move the ball back to that right side and when Darren Thomas, on the wing in place of the injured Adam Larkin, was stopped short, who was there in support?

Gareth Foreman had used his speed and agility for his first two touchdowns and this time he needed to display his strength and determination.

He squeezed over by the corner flag – but only just.

However, referee Alistair Jones was happy with the touchdown and it put West back in front – but only by the slenderest of margins, 26-25.

West returned to the offensive, aided by a series of penalties and on the stroke of full-time, prop Adam Coates finished off a big pack drive in the same corner.

The drama wasn’t over and Driffield returned to the attack, only to knock on 15 metres from the home line after good work by John Dervey and Craig Gray had opened holes in the West defence.

West could not escape and had one last throw of the dice when Gray went alone.

But Driffield’s hopes ended when the scrum-half dropped the ball in a tackle by, you guessed it, Gareth Foreman.

The West hero had the last touch when he kicked the ball out, bringing the final whistle.

And it was a whistle which the players and spectators had heard so much of.

This reporter is not in the business of slagging off referees – without a ref you wouldn’t have a game and all that.

However, Saturday’s fare of whistle, whistle and more blinking whistle ruined the match.

There were 30 penalty awards – 16 to West and 14 to Driffield – and this writer lost count on the number of free-kicks. Even Carol Vorderman may have struggled.

You see only a handful of free-kicks in a match at most – Saturday’s total was well into double figures.

So, on average, two minutes of rugby was punctuated with a penalty or free-kick. No wonder it wasn’t much of a spectacle.

When the sides did get the opportunity to play, there was some decent rugby to be admired, including from Driffield, who do not look like a bottom-four team.

Indeed, seven days after West put a hopeless Durham City to the sword, they looked like cutting Driffield into similar pieces.

West led 21-3 inside the first breathtaking 18 minutes.

Gareth Foreman made a great break from the 22-metre line, beating two defenders before leaving full-back Lee Birch clutching shadows to score under the posts.

The stand-off then provided the scoring pass for Gavin Robinson to go over under the sticks after Coates had been stopped short from a free kick.

And Gareth Foreman completed the easy finish from close range in the 18th minute after the excellent back row of Stephen Stockdale, Jonny Boatman and Dan Boatman had all handled after the first completed scrum of the match. Foreman added all three conversions.

Birch had landed one penalty from three attempts in reply but, at that stage, Driffield seemed set for a long and torrid afternoon.

But the East Yorkshire side had not received the copy of that script.

Driffield possessed a decent pack, a real handful of a scrum-half and a very skilled and dangerous backline, in particular Birch at full-back.

And the league’s top points scorer finished off a slick handling move in the 25th minute down the right at the clubhouse end to touch down for his side’s first try.

The number 15 was unlucky to see his conversion rebound off the post, but he did kick a penalty on 31 minutes to reduce the home advantage to 21-11.

Four minutes after the interval, Birch used his speed and strength to hold off the West defence to score a try down the left, with his well-struck conversion making it 21-18.

In between the blasts of Mr Jones’s whistle, both sides had spells on the attack – Driffield knocking on when well positioned in the 22 and West prop Jon Norris being forced into touch following a Tom Dixon lineout take.

West still had the edge but in their anxiety to find a vital fourth score they telegraphed a long pass to the wing.

McClarron, after a bit of a juggle, intercepted and dashed clear to threaten an end to West’s unbeaten home record.

But it would be Gareth Foreman who would have the decisive say at both ends of the field to keep his team on top.