Castle show improvement as injured players return
Hartlepool Rovers.... 32
Barnard Castle......... 14
CASTLE travelled up to Hartlepool Rovers last Saturday with a stronger side than of late as one or two players at last returned from injury. Facing up to the side sitting fourth in the table and unbeaten at home was, nonetheless, a big challenge.
From the start, Castle looked like a more competitive unit than they had the previous week when early injuries had completely disrupted the team.
The Rovers team were a chunky outfit significantly outweighing the Barney side in both the forwards and the backs. After 24 hours of steady rain, the pitch was slippery and so was the ball.
Barney absorbed steady pressure from the home side for the first five minutes but then got into their stride and broke up the right wing through Tom Steen and debutante fullback Oliver Welsby.
Brought to a halt, the forwards recycled the ball and went through some phases before flyhalf Bret Upton dinked over a sumptuous lofted kick for the corner. The Rovers winger made a mess of gathering it and Tom Steen was nonchalance itself as he gathered one handed, stepped around his opposite number and sped over the tryline.
Skipper Greg Upton converted and Castle led 7-0. Sadly, much of the rest of the half was then spent in the Castle half as they struggled to contain the hefty Rovers runners and soon conceded a try down their left as Rovers capitalised on a lineout drive.
Barney were soon under the cosh again and it appeared that anytime they got the ball, they knocked on and handed possession back to the home team.
The defence was once again outstanding with Matt Morrison and Tom Marston managing turnovers to win back possession. There was also a strong performance from scrumhalf Danny Winter, back in the side after a few weeks away.
Eventually though, the dam broke and just before half time Rovers burst through again with a converted try to lead 12-7 at the break.
Barney had never been out of the game and it was a question of whether they could stop the unforced errors and settle into some phases and grab some control.
Once again, frustratingly, the lineout that had purred along well in the first half, stuttered like an old banger in the second and with line kicks not making touch and players in front of kick-offs, Castle handed back too much possession to Rovers who used their big runners to break the gain line and were soon another two tries up at 22-7.
Barney never stopped trying and finally put some better phases of play together with man-of-the-match Tom Marston again at the forefront, breaking downfield to set up some good field position. Rovers conceded penalties on their own 22 and scrumhalf Danny Winter marshalled the side well to create space on the left.
Quick hands again from Marston and Lucas Summers put fullback Welsby in for a try in the corner. However, a neck-tackle from the Rovers fullback prevented the score albeit that it led to the referee awarding a penalty try and yellow-carding the offender.
At only 22-14 down, Barney could sniff the scent of at least a losing bonus point. However, they were unfortunate to yield a penalty chance from the restart kick and this time Rovers slotted the ball between the posts to stretch away once more.
With minutes ticking away, on the stroke of full time some adventurous play in midfield backfired when the Rovers centre intercepted and had enough strength to get past the cover tacklers to go over under the posts, providing a somewhat lopsided scoreline relative to the battle that had ensued.
With a number of other players returning from injury it is hoped that Barney can build on this promising improvement when they take on South Shields Westoe down on the Demesnes on Saturday week.
Barnard Castle II......... 19
CASTLE’S second string took on top-of-the-table Rovers at home with a side also bolstered with one or two returning players.
Although ultimately they went down to a no-nonsense Rovers outfit, the game was a close affair throughout with Castle leading at half time 14–5 and trailing 19–22 for most of the second half.
It was good to see centres Dean Bainbridge and Jack Clarke return to the backline and Adam Brierley also slotted back into the side.
The forwards were awesome and bossed the opposing eight.
Skipper Steve Holloway at fly half, who too rarely appears in the tries scored column, managed to grab two in a single game, converting both to create a personal tally of 14.
Returning forward Alex Thomas, back in the side after a break since early September, also crashed over towards full time for the other Castle score.
Next week Castle have a rest while English rugby cheers on their national side in the World Cup final before returning to action the following week.