Rugby Union: Lee drops in late

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The Independent Online
Saracens 31

West Hartlepool 30

IT MIGHT only be October but this match had all the passion and tension of a late-season relegation clash. In the last two minutes, the lead changed hands twice with Saracens snatching victory with a drop goal bang on the whistle.

A minute earlier, West had taken the lead after a series of scrum-fives resulted in a penalty and their big prop Mike Shelley had barged over for what looked like the winning try. But it was the Saracens outside- half Andy Lee who had the final, unlikely say. Straight from the kick- off, the London side's pack rolled a maul upfield to give him the chance to snatch the victory. With a previous drop goal, five penalties and a conversion to his name, it was not a chance he was likely to miss, nor did he.

It has to be said that West should never have let it get to that stage. In the first half, they ran in three tries through their wingers Owen Evans and Andrew Blyth, as well as a cracker from their full-back Tim Stimpson, who ran pretty well the length of the field without a hand laid on him.

Stimpson, the new England squad full-back, seemed head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch - often literally so, leaping to snatch his own high kicks from out of the hands of the Saracens defence.

His place-kicking was long and faultless for the first half, but then slipped under intense pressure when each kick would have brought victory and lifted West from the foot of the First Division. His running was straight and powerful. Against this more flamboyant, adventurous approach, Saracens relied on solid teamwork and grit. In the second half, the pack ploughed up the field, giving Lee a string of kickable positions.

The north London side deserved victory for effort and determination in the face of adversity. West must wonder how a 4-1 try count leaves them in such a poor state with not a single League win.

Saracens: A Tunningley; M Gregory, J Buckton, S Ravenscroft, P Harries; A Lee, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, G Holmes, M Langley, B Burrow, J Green, R Hill, A Diprose.

West Hartlepool: T Stimpson; O Evans, J Williams, C Lee, A Blyth; A Parker, S Cook; P Lancaster (capt), T Herbert, M Shelley, C Murphy, D Mitchell, R Leach, A Brown, R Wainwright.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).