Rugby Union: What West did not want to hear

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The Independent Online
West Hartlepool 21 Newcastle 32

NEWCASTLE HAVE told West Hartlepool almost all they need to know about themselves this season. And unless West continue to delude themselves, this Tetley's Bitter Cup fifth-round tie at Victoria Park was not only the third lesson of the North-East tutorial, but by far the most instructive. In a sentence: West are not nearly good enough.

They may have been persuaded otherwise by their performances in the two Premiership games. In the first they were only beaten by a single score. But Newcastle had the game won before two late tries earned West some respectability. At Kingston Park, West were only two points adrift when Mike Brewer was sin-binned in the fourth quarter. West argued - not very convincingly - that Brewer's white card cost them the game.

On Saturday, West were within a point after 30 minutes and, having been 20-12 down after two minutes of the second period, pulled back to 25-21 with 10 minutes remaining. But West never looked capable of scoring a try. Had it not been for Newcastle's propensity to concede penalties in easy positions and the assured goalkicking of Steve Vile Newcastle would have been out of sight before half time.

But the cup is all about ifs and buts. Five of Vile's penalties may have been from short range, and mostly from infront of the posts. If some had been from more difficult angles who knows. But the little Australian also kicked two longer ones, which kept this tie bubbling uncertainly away, until Stuart Legg finished West off with Nwcastle's fourth try.

If West had only one worry, it would be to concentrate on avoiding relegation now they are out of the cup. But West's parlous league position masks a much wider concern, which is for the future of the club. For all Brewer's admirable attempts to make West a force in English rugby, the management's experiment of moving to the town's football stadium, where there were fewer than 2,600 for this derby game, has been an unmitigated failure. By 6.30 on Saturday, the clubhouse-if one can call it that - was an empty shell.

The townsfolk have rejected a marriage with the football club. They are staying away in their hundreds. They mourn for the Hart which has been ripped out of the Pool.

West Hartlepool: Penalties Vile 7.

Newcastle: Tries Tuigamala, Cartmell, Vyvyan, Legg. Conversions Andrew 2, Wilkinson, Penalties Wilkinson, Andrew.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; J Benson, J Connolly, P Tanginoa (P Greaves 73), S John; S Vile, T Nu'uali'itia; S Sparks (P Beal 74), S McDonald (S Whitehead 80), K Fourie, P Farner (capt), T Collier, M Salter, D Monkley, J Ponton.

Newcastle: S Legg; T Underwood, J Wilkinson (P Massey 13), M Shaw, V Tuigamala; R Andrew, G Armstrong (capt); G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, D Weir, H Vyvan, R Arnold (P Walton 59), J Cartmell (S O'Neill 76), R Beattie.

Referee: N Yates (Bowdon, Cheshire).

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