Rugby Union: Buoyant George lays West to rest

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West Hartlepool. . .8

Auckland. . . . . .34

WERE IT not for the cost and distance, Hartlepool's civic fathers might have twinned the town with Auckland, so strong is the connection. West Hartlepool's recent rise to national prominence can be traced to 1981 when the All Black Whetton twins, Gary and Alan, had a season at Brierton Lane. Since then a steady stream of New Zealanders have made the long trek to Cleveland. Some - like West's assistant coach, David Stead - have stayed.

Stead, an Aucklander, may have felt a pang of homesickness as his compatriots ran on to a pitch which earlier in the day was covered by a blanket of snow. Not that the conditions or the occasion made any difference to West's captain Paul Hodder, once of Waikato, who in his order of priorities, regarded victory over New Zealand's strongest province, second only to promotion.

Hodder may well achieve his first objective, but the supplementary aim was denied him as Auckland repeated their 1984 victory here, running in four second-half tries.

West had the encouragement of a try within 17 seconds of the start. The outside-half John Stabler charged down Mark George's clearance, and flanker Alan Brown hacked the ball on from half-way to claim the try. Stabler hit the post with a straightforward conversion.

There was another try on offer for West, but the scrum-half Jonathan Wrigley was criminally greedy when a pass to No 8 Mick Watson - unmarked on his right - would have earned a score. It wasn't the only chance West squandered as Stabler missed with a penalty.

Auckland attempted to bring some fluency to their game, preferring to keep the ball in hand, rather than kick for position. But just as the tourists looked as if they would pierce the West defence the crucial pass was spilled.

Their cause was not helped when George failed with two penalties, but as half-time beckoned, hooker Nick Mantell was driven over from a line-out for a try which George converted from the touchline.

George's next strike brought Auckland the lead. They would have gone further ahead if West had not been able to get back in sufficient numbers to cut down winger Rome Taimalietane in full flight.

But two tries within three minutes by full-back Grant Patten, each the end product of long-range attacks, effectively put the match beyond West's reach.

Taimalietane made sure it stayed that way with a lovely try and George got the final touchdown and kicked two conversions.

West Hartlepool Try Brown; Penalty Stabler. Auckland: Tries Mantell, Patten 2, George, Taimalietane; Conversions George 3. Penalties George.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; D Cooke, C Lee (S McManus, 62; W Ridley, 71), P Hodder (capt), O Evans; J Stabler, J Wrigley; P Lancaster, S Mitchell (M Sengelow, 41), P Whitelock, J Dixon, K Westgarth, P Evans (D Mitchell, 54), A Brown, M Watson.

Auckland: G Patten; R Taimalietane, C Adams, C Rackham, M Brown; M George, O Tonu'u; K Nepia, N Mantell, K Meeus, C Reichelman, J Chandler, B Jackson, K Todd, P Lam (capt).

Referee: J Pearson (Durham).