Rugby Union: Brewer's blunder adds to West ills

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Newcastle 29 West Hartlepool 13

WEST HARTLEPOOL will have few better chances of causing an upset than this, but when you are down on your luck the last thing you should do is take liberties with the referee, especially if he has just warned you for foul play. There are few players in the West team who know better than to cross the fine line between the inadvisable and the unacceptable than Mike Brewer.

But the former All Black, now West's director of rugby, who is only playing because of an injury crisis in his camp and who had been West's talisman in a fighting performance at Kingston Park, virtually handed the match to Newcastle in a moment of stupidity, which earned him 10 minutes in the sin-bin for taking out Doddie Weir at a line-out while the Newcastle jumper was still in mid-air. "I wasn't trying to take his legs away," Brewer said, "I was hanging on to his shorts trying to stop him jumping. I don't think it deserved a white card."

Until that point, with 18 minutes left to play, and all still to play for, the champions had been unsteady and uncertain in the face of some determined West tackling. Newcastle had regained the lead with a penalty goal by Jonny Wilkinson, to go 15-13 ahead after 12 minutes of the second half and, on the evidence of what had preceded the fairly innocuous incident which turned the game, Newcastle needed something special to break down the West defence. With a seasonal act of charity, Brewer did it for them.

While Brewer was serving his punishment, Newcastle took full advantage and scored 14 points to protect their unbeaten league record on this ground which stretches back to January 1996, and in so doing moved up a place in the table to fifth, ahead of Harlequins on points difference. With West's seven-man scrum in all sorts of bother, Newcastle were able to release Va'aiga Tuigamala for their third try, and push West back over their line for the fourth, which was claimed by their debutant scrum-half, Hall Charlton. Wilkinson converted both and to their surprise, and almost everyone else's, Newcastle were in the clear.

If West are to take any comfort from defeat, they can enter the New Year with their depleted stock of self-belief replenished substantially by their refusal to accept the inevitability of relegation. Three times West led. Steven Vile gave them an early advantage with a penalty, while tries by Wilkinson and Ross Beattie were matched by those from Steve John and Shane McDonald. But for Brewer's misdemeanour they might have been the foundations for victory.

Newcastle: Tries Wilkinson, Beattie, Tuigamala, Charlton; Conversions Wilkinson 3; Penalty Wilkinson.

West Hartlepool: Tries John, McDonald; Penalty Vile.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, V Tuigamala (P Massey 75), J Wilkinson, M Wood; R Andrew (capt), H Charlton; G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, D Weir, G Archer, P Walton, R Arnold (J Cartmell 81), R Beattie.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell (P Greaves 66); J Benson, S John, P Tanginoa, G McLure; S Vile, R Stone; J J Van der Esch (S Sparks 75), S McDonald, P Beal, P Farner (capt), J Ponton, M Bentley, D Monkley, M Brewer.

Referee: S Piercy (Goole, W Yorkshire).