Hartlepool Rovers 20 Penrith 24
Jared Stevens

Hartlepool Rovers 20 Penrith 24

By R&O - May 18 2006
This was a game that Hartlepool Rovers quite simply didnít deserve to lose, having tamed the league leaders and outscored them four tries to three, the match living up to its billing as the North Two East match of the day.

The White Shirts played their best rugby since brushing Durham City aside before Christmas and, after weighing up the twin threats of big centre James Stainton and the combative visiting pack, used exactly the right game plan. Rovers scored the better tries and were only let down by their two ĎAchilles heelsí of missed tackles and the absence of a specialist goalkicker.

Two of Penrithís tries came from missed tackles that quite simply ought to have been made and Rovers suffered from a failure to convert any of their tries. Granted two were from difficult angles, and there was a strong wind blowing, but these factors didnít bother ace kicker Coenraad Jansen who put all of his kicks over bar the one he attempted from some 46 metres and which didnít fail by much. In doing so, he confirmed his status as the leagueís top kicker with an amazing 69% conversion success rate.

Penrith attacked from the off and hardly allowed Rovers a touch of the ball for the first fifteen minutes after which the hosts lost Michael Walton who had taken two big hits, Dan Cavanagh moving to stand off, Paul Kirton to the centre and Stuart Ryder entering the fray in the back row.

A tremendous drive by Rovers on 20 minutes saw the pack advance from outside the Penrith 22 to the line where, despite great pressure, Gareth Foreman, Jared Stevens and Darren Smith were all held up. Rovers then amazed everyone in the ground by declining a front on, close range penalty. They kept play in the 22, however, and another great drive from a Ryder lineout take brought a touchdown for Jason White, Foremanís conversion being badly affected by the wind.

The dangerous Stainton then set off on a barnstorming run after 32 minutes from inside his own 22 to halfway and Paul Hetherington was on hand to continue the move to the right hand corner where a close range lineout saw hooker Mark Taylor dive over. Jansen slotted a fine conversion for Penrith to lead 7-5.

Three minutes later, the scoreline became 14-5 when shoddy tackling on the right flank allowed Jansen to make ground and the South African marksman unselfishly handed on to Dan White near the line before adding the conversion.

Full back Phil Hall retrieved a long kick on his 22 and launched the ball to the Steetley corner which was enthusiastically chased by Kirton who then pulled Dan White into touch. Jason White this time turned provider at a lineout and the home eight once again powered to the line with Simon Rutherford emerging with the ball. Phil Hall saw his conversion attempt go across the face of the posts for Penrith to lead 14-10 at half time.

Three minutes into the second half, Foreman emerged from a maul with turnover ball and released his backs with Rutherford and Ben Cushlow combining to take Rovers into the opposition half. A penalty to the corner by Phil Hall was the cue on 45 minutes for another Rovers powerplay when lineout specialist Ryder rose high to take the ball and a 12 metre drive was finished off by Stevens. Foremanís conversion looked good but was curled wide at the last minutes by the wind.

This wind assisted miss was to prove crucial three minutes later when Jansen put over a simple 13 metre penalty to make the score 17-15 to Penrith instead of 17 all.

On 53 minutes, another penalty by Phil Hall put Rovers into a good attacking position at the left hand clubhouse corner. Ryder again obliged to show heís back with a vengeance and Rovers pounded away at the visitorsí line only to be denied across the width of the pitch by stout defence. Sadly for the Friaragemen, when Foreman did steal over the line from a ruck, Mr. Hodgson was unsighted on the blind slide and denied what was a clear try, awarding a five metre scrum instead.

Having already lost Walton and Smith, Rovers then saw Simon Hall taken to hospital with an ankle injury with Jimmy Campbell going on at hooker, Jonny Cushlow reverting to the back row and Jason White to lock.

After 70 minutes disaster struck when, after handling all that Penrith could throw at them, Rovers conceded a third try. There seemed no immediate danger but poor tackling saw Glen Murray exploit this to the full to cross in the left corner. Jansen, who a minute earlier had failed with a monster penalty from almost halfway, put over the conversion with ease and the points seemed with the green and whites as they led, somewhat unfairly, 24-15.

Rovers refused to give in and Stevens put in a powerful 20 metre run and, when tackled only 5 metres out, made the ball available for Foreman to ghost in and close in on the posts for an easier conversion. Phil Hallís kick was well struck but again the wind had the final say and Rovers had gone so close to toppling the league leaders.

The players deserve great praise for this display, the passion and effort were there in full and if this level of performance can be maintained then the run in to the end of the season can be approached with every confidence. Only Beverley (26) and Sheffield (21) have put more than twenty points on Penrith this season. A trip up the A1 to struggling Alnwick is the next match up in a weekís time.

Rovers: P. Hall, Lilley, Cavanagh, Rutherford, B. Cushlow, Walton (Ryder), Foreman, Stevens, J. Cushlow, Wise, Power (c), D. Smith (Wallis), Kirton, S. Hall (Campbell), J. White.

Penrith: D. White, Jansen, Young, Stainton, Hetherington, S. Wilson (sin bin), Flack (Swale), Lund (c), Taylor, R. Wilson (Thwaites), Dawson, Lowes, Murray, Shepherd (Bowman), Raine.

Referee: Mike Hodgson (Durham Society)