Rugby Union: Oliphant takes giant steps

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool 22 Saracens 20

THE sound that has been assailing Barry Taylor's sensibilities since he arrived last month from New South Wales to take over as West Hartlepool's salaried director of rugby has been the constant jangle of nerves.

Since Taylor's introduction to English league rugby, West Hartlepool have won two of their previous three matches by only a single point and lost the other to Nottingham.

The manifest need to strengthen his team was enough to persuade Taylor to travel to the Melrose Sevens to hasten his team's recruitment drive. There is no doubt as to the correctness of his decision.

Had Taylor stayed at Brierton Lane he would not have liked what he saw. For West Hartlepool were a bundle of uncertainty as they allowed Saracens to raise their own expectations of promotion and expose their shortcomings.

At one stage Saracens had this game for the taking. A try by Peter Harries was only disallowed on the intervention of a touch judge, who spotted a Saracens punch. But a neat dropped goal by Andy Lee and a penalty by Andy Tunningley was met by a solitary penalty from Kevan Oliphant, as Hartlepool tried to piece together a convincing attack.

Instead there was more conviction from Saracens, who led 13-3 at the break after Tunningley had taken advantage of neat work by Lee to plunder a try at the posts. Harries eventually got his reward with a try, Tunningley converted both scores and Saracens were still in control, even though Mick Watson had pulled Hartlepool back to within 10 points with a try which Oliphant converted. In a frantic finish, they were eased home by three more Oliphant penalties and a touchline dropped goal by Ashley Parker.

West Hartlepool: Try Watson; Conversion Oliphant; Drop goal Parker; Penalties Oliphant 4. Saracens: Tries Tunningley, Harries; Conversions Tunningley 2; Drop goal Lee; Penalty Tunningley.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; O Evans, S McManus, P Hodder (capt), G Evans; A Parker, J Wrigley; P Lancaster, S Mitchell, P Whitelock, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Mitchell, A Brown, M Watson.

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

Referee: A Rowden (Reading).