Mapletoft outshines Ring

West Hartlepool 14 Gloucester 23
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Mark Mapletoft polled most of the votes in the battle for control at No 10 as Gloucester decisively won a match which bore most of the hallmarks of a relegation encounter.

The visiting fly-half scored a try from a searing outside break and added three penalties and two conversions, while his opposite number, West Hartlepool's player-coach Mark Ring, performed like a man weighed down by a multitude of problems. He could be forgiven for that, as this defeat merely confirmed that West will need to discover Houdini-like qualities if they are to survive in Division One.

With four teams currently battling to avoid the three automatic relegation places, defeat at home to fellow strugglers was acutely unwelcome for West, whose lack of resources is undermining their attempts to come to terms with the professional era.

Having failed to qualify for Europe, this was their only competitive home game in a two-month period during which lack of gate money can only add to their difficulties. Yesterday's crowd of 1,850 was also a disappointment. Both teams had one win from six league games and the desperate need for another victory meant that champagne rugby stayed firmly corked.

Mapletoft kicked two penalties and hit the post before West began to shake off the rust. England's reserve hooker, Phil Greening, spent most of the first half offside and was responsible for West being able to draw level. Chris John landed two penalties, the second following an enterprising move from their own line, when fullback Matthew Silva made good ground before kicking ahead almost to the Gloucester 22, where Greening conceded the penalty.

West's threat to take command, however, was throttled after Ring dropped a pass under the posts and Gloucester moved the ball left for winger Audley Lumsden to squeeze over. Mapletoft's conversion made it 13-6 at half time and their more experienced forwards continued to impose a stranglehold from which West occasionally broke loose with swift and incisive running.

Gloucester had spent the previous five weeks playing in the European Conference, during which time West had not had a real match, having secured a postponement of their league game at Wasps because of a lack of front- row forwards.

Although their Australian prop Wayne de Jonge returned after suspension yesterday, West's injury problems were still sufficient to enforce a premature recall in the second row for skipper Kevin Moseley, not recovered fully from a foot injury.

Gloucester might have won more convincingly had they not been let down by poor handling. Most of the frills came from West, but they became increasingly frantic after Mapletoft sliced through for his try 10 minutes after the break. He added the conversion and exchanged further penalties with John, but hopes that the game would break free of its shackles in the final quarter proved sadly wide of the mark.

West's former England Schools winger, Mike Wood, made the most of his scraps of possession and squeezed in for a try at the death. It is to be hoped that West reverse their decision not to allow him to play for the North as he would benefit from greater exposure than he can get in games such as this.

West Hartlepool: M Silva; G Trulove (J Connolly, h-t), S John, C John, M Wood; M Ring, D Kamo; W de Jonge, A Peacock, V Hartland (P Whitelock, 74), C Murphy, K Moseley (capt), A Ramus, J Ions, I Morgan

Gloucester: C Catling; M Peters, A Saverimutto, M Roberts, A Lumsden; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), P Glanville, N Carter, E Pearce

Referee: N Cousins (London)