Rugby Union: It is finally becoming tough to go West

West Hartlepool 19 Bristol 8
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The Independent Online
For the moment it does not matter if Liam Botham discovered rugby or West Hartlepool found the son of England's most famous modern-day cricketer and signed him before any other club could claim his signature.

As Bristol were to find to their cost, West have rediscovered the knack of making their Brierton Lane ground one of the most inhospitable venues in Britain for visiting teams. Not before time, some would say.

If West have any money left once they have cleared their debts, the last thing they should spend it on is undersoil heating. That would suggest a warmth in West's welcome which has so often been their undoing since their Australian coach, Barry Taylor, was sacked 26 months ago.

Somehow, Hartlepool had avoided the blanket of snow and ice which covered the country, though a chilling end-to-end wind made it an afternoon for the hardy and the precise. West proved to be altogether hardier, while Bristol's imprecision and numb decision-making left their director of rugby, Alan Davies, frozen in disbelief.

"We should have put the game away in the first half," Davies said. "We made an ideal start, but then took all the wrong options and we were eventually out-committed by West who fully deserved their victory."

Davies charitably made no mention that his pack was without David Corkery and the England lock Simon Shaw, nor what a difference Ireland outside- half Paul Burke would have made to Bristol's midfield organisation and distribution. These aspects of Bristol's play, once Robert Jones had scored their try, gradually disintegrated in the face of West's wholehearted defence.

For 30 minutes, Jones ran the show behind Bristol's dominant forwards. Martin Corry made the most of West's vulnerability around the fringes - with no first-choice flankers available, they had to field a scrum-half on one flank and a hooker on the other - to provide Jones with his scoring pass before Mark Tainton kicked a penalty. Then it all changed. Making his Courage League debut, 19-year-old Botham was the media's man of the week. However, the man of the match was West's No 8, New Zealander Ivan Morgan. Not far behind was Morgan's former Canterbury colleague, Jamie Connolly.

Morgan was the inspiration for West in attack and defence, while Connolly, using Botham as a decoy, was their try-scorer. A penalty from Matthew Silva, three and a conversion by John Stabler was sufficient to ensure delight for Botham on his big day, while consigning Bristol to the thick of the relegation battle.

West Hartlepool: Try Donnolly; Conversion Stabler; Penalties Stabler 3, Silva. Bristol: Try Jones; Penalties Tainton.

West Hartlepool: M. Silva; M Wood, L Botham, J Connolly, S John; J Stabler, P Harvey; W De Jonge, S Whitehead, P Whitelock, Murphy, K Moseley (capt), M Challinor, M Roderick, I Morgan.

Bristol: P Hull; D Tiueti, K Maggs, M Denney, B Breeze; M Tainton, R Jones; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, P Adams, C Eagle, C Barrow, S Filali (N Temperley, 72), M Corry (capt).

Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).