The 1st XV and its loyal band of travelling support made the trip up the A19 to Brinkburn, the current home of a club formed 138 years ago. In their day, West Hartlepool have played at the highest level. Promoted to North One East at the end of last season, results this season have not gone their way.
The pitch was shorter than many but in good condition in spite of recent rain. The skies were clear and sunny and a stiff and cold wind cut across the pitch.
West grow their own players, like Driffield, and all but one of their starting line-up had come through their junior section. They have suffered a high turnover of players this season, using 41 in their 1st XV already. But this was no reason for Driffield to think things would be easy.
West Hartlepool were straight into the game, gaining possession from the kick-off and moving the ball to the right of the pitch. The ball was worked right from the back of a maul and passed quickly out to the winger. He took it at full pace and galloped a full 50 yards down the right wing to touch down in the corner for a try after just two minutes. The conversion attempt hit the post, a great effort in such windy conditions. West Hartlepool 5 – 0 Driffield
This stung Driffield into action, and a few minutes later Longville took the ball forward strongly, passing it to James Dinsdale. He made twenty yards before passing to brother Ben, who went over for the try which Watts wasn’t able to convert. West Hartlepool 5 – 5 Driffield
Driffield collected the ball well at the restart, but were held in their own 22 until the ball was shipped to Ben Dinsdale. He jinked his way left and right through a sea of West defenders and ran the 70 yards to score under the sticks. This was easier for Watts to convert. West Hartlepool 5 – 12 Driffield
Play for the next five minutes was largely in Driffield’s half – West were not about to give up – but the defence held strong. On 13 minutes, after a strong run down the left side of the pitch, Ryan Longville made excellent ground before passing the ball to the supporting James Dinsdale, who went over for the try. Again the strong wind made the conversion difficult, and it was missed. West Hartlepool 5 – 17 Driffield
West returned to Driffield’s half, and pressed left and right looking for a gap without success – the Driffield defence was solid. On the 20-minute mark, a great–looking clearance kick from Furbank looked as if it had relieved the pressure. But it was well-collected by the West full-back, who ran it back and worked it down the right side of the pitch, scoring in the corner. The conversion attempt was pushed wide. West Hartlepool 10 – 17 Driffield
Five minutes later, a Driffield throw-in to the back of the line was collected and worked left and right, probing for a gap in the West defence. The ball was given to Brankley, who creates his own gaps, and he burst through on the rampage to score near the sticks, converted by Watts. West Hartlepool 10 – 24 Driffield
Minutes later the West No. 10 had to leave the pitch after trying to stop Reuben Kelly on the burst – his shoulder couldn’t withstand the power of Reuben on the charge. Kelly was stopped just short of the line, and play halted while the injured player was helped off the pitch. From the restart the ball was moved to Brankley who made it over the line. Watts’ conversion valiantly attempted to compensate for the strong cross-field wind but it curled just too late. West Hartlepool 10 – 29 Driffield
Just before half-time Driffield were once again camped in their own 22 until they pinched the ball from West. Ryan Longville once again ran strongly through the middle, reaching the West 10-metre line before popping the ball to Ben Dinsdale. He raced the remaining 35 yards to score near the sticks, where Watts was able to convert, making the half-time score West Hartlepool 10 – 36 Driffield.
The second half started with Driffield kicking the ball into West’s 22, until they worked their way out of their own half with a strong run down the left wing. Eventually they lost possession, and Longville once again weaved his way through West’s defence before finding Sam Furbank on his shoulder. He took the ball over the line near the sticks, and Watts took the extras. West Hartlepool 10 – 43 Driffield
Once again, West returned to the attack and battered the Driffield defences. But this was a day when Driffield got it right and West were unable to find any gaps, no matter how hard they tried. Eventually they lost the ball and, seizing their chance, Driffield counter-attacked. Longville made another excellent charge through the middle, beating the despairing tacklers to touch down under the post. Watts converted. West Hartlepool 10 – 50 Driffield
West hadn’t given up by any means and returned to the attack. Driffield withstood the pressure until they were able to clear their lines, kicking the ball deep into the West 22. They ran it back at Driffield, reaching the Driffield 10 metre before losing possession. The ball was moved to Watts out on the left wing, and he jinked his way down the line to score the try. West Hartlepool 10 – 55 Driffield
With ten minutes to go, West came back at Driffield. They tried to run it out of their 22 without success, until finally Furbank was able to put in another ballistic clearance kick deep into the West 22. This time West were not able to run it back, and Driffield took up position in their opponent’s 22.
The pressure from Driffield eventually told, and they won the ball back. Strong running by Ben Dinsdale carried the ball forward, before being moved left and then right looking for a way through. Eventually it was popped up to replacement Joe Robinson who burst through a gap to score. The conversion was missed. West Hartlepool 10 – 60 Driffield
West still hadn’t given up hope of scoring and came back at Driffield, making good progress into Driffield territory. But sharp work by Watts allowed him to intercept a long pass on the half-way line and he romped the 45 yards to score the try, converted by Watts. West Hartlepool 10 – 67 Driffield.
In the last minutes of the game it looked as if Driffield would score another try, when Robinson intercepted a long pass out and had a clear run in to the line. But play was called back by the referee for a Driffield infringement and West got back into attack mode. Driffield’s defence again held up well before Robinson broke out of defence and, in what turned out to be the last play of the game, reached West’s 22 before being well-tackled. Final score West Hartlepool 10 – 67 Driffield
Driffield can be justifiably pleased with the way they played this game. In difficult conditions for passing the ball, they rarely kicked and held on well to the ball. They gave away very few penalties, even though much of the play was in their own half. They took all opportunities that presented themselves, and converted them into an eleven-try victory.
With Morley losing, Driffield are now on the top of the table at the half-way stage of the league season, level on points but with a better points difference than York.