Newcastle look destined for higher calling

Newcastle 51 West Hartlepool 10
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The Independent Online
While Newcastle reached new heights with a crushing, seven-try defeat of their North-east neighbours at Kingston Park in yesterday's Pilkington Cup fifth-round tie, West Hartlepool's misery apparently knows no bounds.

Coming at the end of the worst week in the club's 115-year history, West are speeding downhill so fast they would probably be more comfortable spending the remainder of the winter on an alpine piste.

Last Monday their long-term sponsor Phillip Yuill withdrew his support. It seems the only way West can clear their growing mountain of debt is to sell their Brierton Lane ground to Yuill's construction company for housing development. An extraordinary general meeting has been called for 3 January to decide the club's future.

Against this uncertain background West could have lifted the spirits of their supporters, given a decent cup run. Some hope. With only one win from their last 27 First Division matches, West's confidence is positively subterranean while most of the team are playing with a lack of conviction.

There were exceptions in front of a crowd numbering 4,665 - Newcastle's largest of the season - notably by the flankers Jon Ions and Russell Earnshaw and their lock Chris Murphy, who tackled themselves to a standstill. Elsewhere West could never find enough bodies to fill the gaping holes punched in their defences by Dean Ryan. Nor do they have anyone with the pace to match the Newcastle backs, and they found it near-impossible to catch Tony Underwood, scorer of two tries, when he was in full flight.

It was clear by the end of the first quarter that West were in for a difficult afternoon as Newcastle thundered into an 18-3 lead. Their forwards, bristling with intent, were aggressively superior in all phases of play.

Gary Armstrong was like a terrier behind the home pack, snapping at the loose ball and sniping down the fringes for the first of his two tries after John Bentley had brushed through Matt Silva's limp tackle for the opening touchdown.

Silva's atonement with a smart try was West's only bright moment before Doddie Weir extended Newcastle's advantage by twisting over the line for his side's third try.

From then on Newcastle took complete control. As their director of rugby, Rob Andrew, said afterwards: "This was a big game in several ways: a local derby and a day to prove ourselves against opposition from a higher league. Victory was a confidence boost for us and we proved conclusively that we can live with the physical intensity of a Division One side. "

There will be more than one Division One team hoping to avoid Andrew and company when today's sixth-round draw is made.

Newcastle: Tries Armstrong 2, Underwood 2, Bentley, Weir, penalty try; Conversions Andrew 5; Penalties Andrew 2. West Hartlepool: Try Silva; Conversion Stabler; Penalty Stabler.

Newcastle: M Tetlow; J Bentley, A Tait, G Childs, T Underwood (R Wilkinson, 73); R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell, R Nesdale, G Graham, G Archer, D Weir, P Walton (N Frankland, 12), S O'Neill, D Ryan (Capt).

West Hartlepool: M Silva; M Wood (G Cordle, 70), J Connolly, M Ring (M Wood, 73), S John; J Stabler, M Roderick; W de Jonge, A Peacock, P Whitelock, C Murphy, K Moseley (capt), J Ions, R Earnshaw, I Morgan.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Bristol).

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