Sun 29
West Hartlepool
West Hartlepool v Durham City U14s by Phil Spooner

West Hartlepool v Durham City U14s by Phil Spooner

By David Garrity
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This was another full-blooded and nail-biting encounter which kept everyone guessing until almost the final minute of the match. Playing in tiring breezy conditions, West Hartlepool made Durham work hard all the way for another good victory. Once again Du


This was another full-blooded and nail-biting encounter which kept everyone guessing until almost the final minute of the match. Playing in tiring breezy conditions, West Hartlepool made Durham work hard all the way for another good victory. Once again Durham’s team work and character came through with flying colours and they earned this result by superior team work, by generating a wider range of attacking options and, ultimately, by digging deeper than Hartlepool when the going got tough!

The match was played on West Hartlepool’s 1st XV pitch – a rare honour for the U-14’s. A stiff and constant breeze blew from one end to the other throughout the match and intermittent showers occasionally interrupted an otherwise sunny Autumn morning. The match was split into two 25 minute halves and was overseen by an independent referee. Durham brought a typically strong squad of 22 players, all of whom – as always – played their part in what was to be the latest in a series of hard-fought but well-deserved victories.

Durham kicked-off with the wind behind them and straight away pressed West Hartlepool back to behind their 22 yard line and then, for what seemed an age, to within five yards of their try line. Desperate defending eventually cleared Durham pressure back to the half way line. At this point, and against the run of play, Hartlepool won possession from inconclusive midfield attrition and broke away through Durham’s centre to plant the ball between Durham’s posts for the first score of the game which was duly converted for a 7-0 lead.

Durham responded in typically unflustered fashion and threatened the Hartlepool try line straight from the restart until an unfortunate knock-on relieved the pressure on the home side. Despite this Durham continued to pressure and powerful forward tackling punched through Hartlepool’s defence to set up Durham’s first try from a remorseless drive just to the left of the posts. Wind conditions thwarted a brave effort to convert, the ball going inches wide of Hartlepool’s near post for a 7-5 score line after nine minutes.

Durham were using the wind to their advantage with some good high kicking and chasing and Hartlepool were soon pinned back in the far left hand corner of their 5 yard area. Continued Durham pressure released a great power drive ending with a try scored right between Hartlepool’s posts after 13 minutes. A great conversion meant that Durham were now in the lead by 12 points to 7 – and deservedly so. From the restart West Hartlepool continued to struggle to relieve the pressure which was being heaped upon them and Durham’s frequent success in recovery of possession was only making matters worse. Indeed, when in possession Hartlepool struggled to use width and appeared very much reliant upon strong driving in the centre to achieve progress. Durham, by contrast, used their width to stretch the home defence and it was no surprise when a third Durham try was scored after 20 minutes. The try came from recovery of possession on the half way line, the ball being fed out to the right wing and a determined break down the touchline and over the Hartlepool line for a 17-7 lead to Durham which they carried into half time.

Durham had recovered well from their early setback to achieve a healthy first half lead. Good though this was it felt perhaps one try less than was needed to give them some breathing space when facing into the wind in the second half. Indeed within five minutes of the start of the second half Hartlepool had struck back with two fairly identical tries – both powerful drives through the centre from ten yards inside the Durham half – to wipe out Durham’s advantage and take a 21-17 lead, both tries being successfully converted from right underneath the posts. The next period of play was not easy watching as Durham became sloppy and a little undisciplined and for the first 15 minutes of the second half it was easy to envisage a Durham defeat. Many away supporters including this reporter were feeling that one more try to Hartlepool at that point and even Durham’s proven character and determination might not have been sufficient to rescue the situation.

We should have known better! Just when Durham’s backs were very much against the wall, they summoned up a great team try to regain the initiative. Tenacious in midfield, they recovered possession well, held it in the face of tough tackling and sucked Hartlepool players into the centre of the pitch only to release a great break to the right wing which exploited the overlap which had been created to run in a fourth try just to the left of Hartlepool’s posts. A successful conversion in the face of the wind restored Durham’s lead, now by 24 points to 21.

With confidence boosted they powered on and almost scored a quick second try with constant pressure resulting in a 5 yard scrum to the visitors right between Hartlepool’s posts. Adrenaline flowing, Durham were in no mood to let the opportunity slip by and they powered over the Hartlepool line for their fifth try of the match. Another successful conversion saw Durham take a 31-21 lead with five minutes remaining.

Game over? Not a chance! Hartlepool were still very much up for the contest and their fourth try – also their fourth from a central break from midfield – ensured that away supporter’s blood pressure remained high! With time running out and the score line standing at 28-31, the next score looked certain to be the match winner. Once again it was to be Durham’s day. Ever cool under pressure they kept calm, recovered possession in the middle of the Hartlepool half, pressed forward, created another overlap situation and then seized the opportunity ruthlessly with another break down the right, the ball being touched down between Hartlepool’s posts. Duly converted this gave Durham a 38-28 lead and the referee blew his whistle shortly afterwards……phew!!

This was a really good game, well-refereed throughout and very well contested by both sides. Durham’s resilience was tested seriously once again. It was not found wanting. Behind twice, they just kept going in the belief that their stronger all-round play and the wider range of scoring options which this presented would carry the day – and so it proved. Durham’s main learning point is to push up and tackle strong central drives earlier and before big, fast forwards have a chance to build momentum…..if they do this well the main source of tries against them will be closed off.

Notwithstanding this, it was another great and gutsy performance from a real team and congratulations to the full squad once again.

We can look forward to Sunday’s tough County Cup match at Houghton with guarded optimism and confidence. However, we can’t be complacent in the slightest as Houghton pose a similar central threat to that posed by Hartlepool and a few other teams that we have faced this season. Shut-out this threat and play as we know we can and let’s see what happens!

Good luck.

Phil Spooner

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Match details

Match date

Sun 29, Oct 2017