Rugby Union: West turn their eyes northwards

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

Saracens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

WHATEVER else Barry Taylor had learnt about English league rugby since he arrived at West Hartlepool to become their first salaried director of rugby, he must be aware that his new club are not remotely good enough to survive in the First Division.

Taylor, once coach to New South Wales and Australia under-21s, has only been here three weeks, and does not take charge until the end of the month. He will also know that once West had risen to the top after successive promotions from the Third, they were immediately relegated.

West's obvious priority is to prevent a repeat of this depressing sequence mirrored a year later by neighbours Newcastle Gosforth. But the plain truth is, the region is incapable of supporting one First Division team - never mind two - by relying exclusively on home-grown talent. The lesson for both clubs is clear: to survive, they have to recruit on a fairly far-reaching scale.

There is not doubting the resolve of West's ambitions. With a prosperous sponsor to support the club's aspirations, Scotland's Rob Wainwright has already been signed, as apparently have several other Scots of sound pedigree, keen to sharpen their skills in the English First Division.

To be able to make a judgement on the quality of those likely to be available to him in September, Taylor forsook the pleasures of a promotion party at Brierton Lane and instead journeyed to the Melrose Sevens. Among his other tasks, Taylor was able to renew his aquaintance with another signing, the centre Graham Shiel, who spent the 1992 summer with Taylor's former club, Manly.

South of the border, the celebrations took some time to get under way; and even then they were somewhat low-key. Before Taylor's appointment it looked as if West were going to bounce straight back following last April's demotion. But of late West have been a bundle of nerves and their progress has been more of an upward crawl on all fours. A home defeat by relegation- threatened Nottingham and two nail-biting single-point victories against mid-table clubs, is hardly the stuff of champions.

With promotion hopes' of their own, Saracens led 13-3 at the break and outscored West by two tries to one. But in a breathlessly exciting finish, the home forwards and Kevan Oliphant's goal-kicking just gave West the edge. But there is much work for Taylor to do if history is not to repeat itself.

West Hartlepool: Try Watson; Conversion Oliphant; Drop goal Parker; Penalties Oliphant 4. Saracens: Tries Harries, Tunningley; 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 (P Evans, 60), 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)

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