Experience and youth win the day!
Report by James Collins
We had another suspiciously quiet week with regards to cry offs. Apart from a last-minute false alarm on Saturday morning we were pretty much as selected on Tuesday, with only Jonny Manning crying off with a sickness bug during the week. We had given starts to a few of the players that had been playing well off the bench in previous weeks, and I was excited to see how we got on against a Rovers team who had been winning plenty of games in their side of the candy league system.
We left Gateshead in torrential rain, but the weather in Hartlepool was very different. It was sunny and warm, but blowing an absolute gale, so much so that it was clear that it was going to dictate how the game was played. We started playing directly in to the wind with the knowledge that we’d have to spend large parts of the 1st period playing in our own half.
As has been the pattern with the last few weeks, we defended very well. Young Luke Austin was tackling everything moving with a mixture of speed and power at least twice as much as his frame should generate. I honestly don’t understand how he does it for a purely scientific point of view, it defies logic. Unfortunately, Luke had to come off when Matty Butler was yellow carded and we were forced to bolster the second row. During the period we were down to 14 men, we conceded a try, but scored one of our own, so it was only a 2 point deficit, which added to the wind was a hugely encouraging sign.
We managed to score twice more, against a single Rovers penalty, and went in to half time 15-10 up. A brilliant result playing in to what we had estimated as a 10-15 point wind.
The second half started and if anything, the wind seemed to die down a bit, but we still made the most of the improved conditions. With the wind at our backs, we ran in 4 more tries against 2 from Rovers who fought back towards the end, final score was 41-22.
3 of our tries came from Matt Rawlinson, who is looking better and better every week (did I say that last week? Probably, but it was true then too). He was easily the MOM and was again dangerous every time he got the ball. He will be knocking on the door of the first team before long.
Other tries were scored by Luke Nuttall, who ran a move off the back of the scrum that should have led to him passing on to Corey, but instead he broke a couple of tackles and saw the pitch open up in front of him, he sprinted a good 50 yards to score under the posts. This is Luke’s 2nd game I think at this level, he was great last week, even better this week, and he’s another who should be targeting a move up at some point this season (once his fitness levels are up to speed).
Other tries were scored by Paul Lindsey, Lewie Arthur and Corey Blacklock with Todd adding 3 conversions. The back line looked sharp, our movement, shape and handling all started well, but got better throughout as we got to grips with the wind. this was only highlighted by the difficulties that Rovers had with their passing in the conditions. This isn’t a comment against Rovers, because I’m really not over stating just how difficult the wind was to deal with, but Corey at 9 dealt with it brilliantly, with Ben Wade and Todd Riley in midfield looking very assured and distributing accurately and sensibly throughout.
We have a great mixture of experience and youth all over the pitch, but this was especially evident in the backs this week. Lewie Arthur came in and played with maturity and confidence on the wing in a game not best suited to wingers, doing fantastically well to score a try after he was given the ball with defenders in front of him from 15 yards or so. It’s just a shame he’ll be missing from the game next week following a ‘mishap’ on the Fell after a few drinks on Saturday. You’ll have to ask him to explain yourself, because I’m sure there’s something missing from the story he gave us!
Our line out worked surprisingly well given the wind, and Paul Bate was as accurate as ever, you wouldn’t even have been able to tell the conditions were tricky. It helps that Rob Fish produced an absolute master class in line out jumping, and he not only won our own ball, but put a lot of pressure on theirs too.
The best thing to watch on Saturday was that Rovers threw everything at us in the first half, and then again when they were chasing the game in the second half. We stood up to everything the had during the game, and when the aggression spilled over we stood up to that too. Everyone was a part of that, but Luke Austin, John Kelley and Matt Butler stood out during those times.
I’ve mentioned Luke already, but with the conditions as the were and up against a very big Rovers team, we knew were would be targeted by big runners around the edges of rucks. In John and Matty we have 2 players who will never take a step backwards, and both were notable for their defending efforts in those areas. John is a big lad, but he’s even stronger than he looks he might be, and anyone running straight at him is a braver/stupider man than me. Matty seems to thrive on contact in tight areas and just gets better and better the more our backs are against the wall. These two really made a difference to the overall defensive effort at the weekend.
Lastly, a word for the lads that were on our bench. It makes such a big difference to be able to bring on experienced, quality players when we get injuries or players are tiring. It’s the boys who have come off the bench all year, and especially in this game that have made the difference between this season and last. We’ve been able to call on people who can not only do a job, but can make a real difference and that makes my job a lot easier on a Saturday, and harder on a Tuesday.
3 home games in a row now, starting from next week against Horden. We’ve won our last 2, let’s aim to make it 5 wins in a row before we play our next away game lads!
PS. There were 4 yellow cards given during the game (2 for us, 2 for them), but I haven’t mentioned the referee yet. It’s probably for the best we keep it that way.