Rugby Union: Sarries refuse to die

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Saracens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

IF Rob Andrew feels the need for a short meeting with Geoff Cooke, the West Hartlepool coach, Dave Stubbs, should have no qualms about calling a week- long seminar with his players. It is not easy to decide who appears the more dispossessed, Andrew or Stubbs. Both deserve our understanding, if not some sympathy.

News of what had brought about England's downfall in Cardiff - and by extension, Andrew's demise five days later - had evidently not reached Hartlepool. Or if it had, the lessons had not been absorbed.

Just as the national side had perished a week previously by failing to nail home their chances and declined in the face of an obdurate defence, West mirrored England's performance to the letter; even to the extent of a conclusive lack of concentration when they appeared in control.

For West, this was a rerun of their previous home league match against Rugby in October. Then, they crashed by a point after John Stabler had failed with six penalty and two drop goal attempts.

Once again, West won all the important contests except goal- kicking and last-quarter defence. Stabler was off target with four kickable penalties and although his solitary success kept West ahead until the closing 10 minutes, Saracens' refusal to accept the inevitable proved unanswerable.

After this unlikely victory at Brierton Lane there is still hope for Sarries. Not much, but hope none the less. The exiles come next and if they defeat the Scots and Irish, then Saracens' First Division survival - and perhaps Bath's fourth title - may depend on the final game at Southgate. Shades of 1990. If relegation can be avoided, Darren O'Leary, Justyn Cassell, Eric Peters, Chris Tarbuck and Dan Dooley could also be persuaded to stay.

West's only hope now is for success in the Pilkington Cup. When they meet Wasps in a fortnight's time in a quarter-final, Andrew and Stubbs should have much to talk about.

West Hartlepool: Penalty Stabler. Saracens: Tries O'Leary, Crawley.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; O Evans, C Lee, P Hodder (S Havery, 61), D Cooke; J Stabler (capt), J Wrigley; P Lancaster, S Mitchell, P Whitelock, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Blyth, A Brown, P Evans.

Saracens: A Tunningley; D O'Leary, J Buckton (J Jenkins, 32), D Dooley, S Reed (A Clark, h/t); G Hughes, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, L Adamson, C Tarbuck, J Cassell, B Crawley.

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).