Rugby Union: Rovers the kind of pushovers Evans enjoys

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The Independent Online
Hartlepool Rovers. .5

West Hartlepool. . 49

HARTLEPOOL displays the old and new faces of rugby to sharper effect than any other town in England. Rovers were once the aristocrats of the game in the North- east; their place in history assured as the Barbarians' first opponents on the famous Oyster Supper tour in 1890.

In those days, Rovers also provided the Barbarians with their captain, Fred Alderson. But times change, and Rovers have been overtaken by neighbours West and were all but overwhelmed in this 187th meeting between the clubs.

However, the contrasts go beyond the current disparity in playing skills. While West's home was the local greyhound track, Rovers were still top dogs, winning the Durham Challenge Cup a record 45 times. When West were forced to relocate in 1965, they adopted a business plan, set up a lucrative football pool and their debt-free Brierton Lane ground is pristine testimony to the enterprise nowadays needed to reach the top.

In the aftermath of a record defeat at the hands of West, Rovers' secretary, Phillip Mitchell, reflected on some of their difficulties: 'This club is steeped in tradition and history, but today's players want more than that. We're safe in North One and on the fringes of national league rugby, but until we get there it's extremely hard to recruit new players and almost as hard to keep them,' a weary Mitchell acknowledged.

Jonathan Wrigley, West's first- choice scrum-half, is one of many who illustrate Mitchell's point exactly. A former Rovers' captain, Wrigley is not the first to cross town to further his career.

When Wrigley recovers from a knee operation he could find difficulty in displacing Steve Havery, who had a hand in three of the eight tries an otherwise full- strength West side scored.

The Friarage may be one of the unloveliest grounds in the game, but it was one of the few in the North to beat the frost and West coach Dave Stubbs was glad of it. 'We haven't been together for over a month and we needed this game to iron out one or two things before we get our league effort back on track at London Scottish in a fortnight,' he said.

Rovers quite clearly have other priorities. Although they could never subdue the West pack - or Paul Evans, who collected a hat- trick of pushover tries - Rovers never capitulated.

Their loose-head prop, Stuart Langston, raised the loudest cheer when he crashed over from a ruck, following excellent work by Martin Saunders, Rovers' strong-running full-back.

Hartlepool Rovers: Try Langston; West Hartlepool: Tries P Evans 3, Lee 2, Blyth, Stabler, Oliphant; Conversions Stabler 3; Penalty Stabler.

Hartlepool Rovers: M Saunders; G King, I Bell (capt), A Calvert, P Scott; K Sainty, M Whittingham; S Langston, G Phillipson, J Corrigan, S Hansom, G Dixon, S Armstrong, J Whitehouse, B Robinson.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; O Evans, C Lee, P Hodder, D Cooke; J Stabler (capt), S Havery; P Lancaster, S Mitchell, P Whitelock, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Blyth, A Brown, P Evans.

Referee: P Thompson (Northumberland).