`Nervous wrecks' find the cure

PAUL STEPHENS
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The Independent Online
There are sure to be more famous victories than this, though it is doubtful if any of them will be so welcome. When you have stared defeat in the face for 22 consecutive league matches, losing has become endemic. On Sunday mornings during this sequence, few of West's players will have wanted to look in the mirror.

For their player-coach, Mark Ring, yesterday's hangover carried new significance. The cycle ended, Ring encapsulated his team's feelings precisely: "We go out on to the field a bunch of nervous wrecks. We're so lacking confidence in our own ability, it's no wonder sides have been taking advantage of us. But this win is a huge psychological boost."

For the first 10 minutes of an extraordinary though - in terms of skill, at least - undistinguished game, it looked business as usual when Saracens opened up West's notoriously unreliable defence for Muna Ebongalame to score in the corner.

In the final 10 minutes, West looked as if they had been winning from the start of this season, and for most of last. Saracens by contrast not only lost their way and the match, but by the final whistle they had come close to losing their self-respect.

West by then had reduced Saracens' forwards to a group of disoriented strangers who had been comprehensively outplayed. The West back row, in which the New Zealander Ivan Morgan was an inspirational figure, eclipsed the Saracens' back three, who invariably failed to pick up Alan Brown, Jon Ions or Morgan. Ultimately, this deficiency cost them two league points.

Saracens can hardly complain. After Ring had scored a neat try 12 minutes into the second half, they twice had chances to rescue things. Andy Tunningley had kicked his second penalty, to tie the scores at 11-11 when Morgan struck with a try by the posts. Chris John added the conversion to his two penalty goals.

Richard Wallace then hauled Saracens back to within two points. at 18- 16, with a try, which was the culmination of their only convincing move of the closing quarter. Perhaps from that position, Saracens took the view that there was still time for West to crack.

Not with Morgan dictating the forward exchanges. The former Canterbury open-side flanker led the charge to Saracens' line for John to score and so end West's dismal run of losses which began in April 1995.

West Hartlepool: Tries Ring, Morgan, C John; Conversions C John 2; Penalties C John 2. Saracens: Tries Ebongalame, R Wallace. Penalties Tunningley 2.

West Hartlepool: M Silva; M Wood, S John, M Ring (capt), G Cordle; C John, M Roderick; W de Jonge, S Whitehead (T Herbert, 52), V Hartland (P Whitelock, 61), C Murphy, D Mitchell, J Ions, A Brown, I Morgan.

Saracens: A Tunningley; R Wallace, P Sella, D Dooley, M Ebongalame; A Lee, K Bracken; A Olver, C Olney, P Wallace, P Johns, T Copsey, A Metcalfe, R Hill, A Diprose (capt).

Referee: G Hughes (Fareham, Hants).

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