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Match Report by Ian Hewson

Eager to return to action following the Christmas break, Guisborough travelled the short distance to West Hartlepool on Saturday for their first league match of 2016.

The game could not have got off to a worse start, as West Hartlepool were awarded a scrum 5 metres from the Guisborough tri-line following the kick-off. Winning the set-piece, the hosts ran the ball left and scored in the corner to take an early lead. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Having suffered the early setback, Guisborough settled into the game and used their forwards to good effect as they went through several phases to take play into opposition territory. A neat chip over the West backline by Jack Robinson saw an opposition player carry the ball into touch 5 metres from their tri-line. However, the line-out was lost, allowing West to break out of their 22 metre area through strong runs from their pack before a kick through into the dead-ball area was touched down by Christian Pollock, giving Guisborough the re-start from the 22 metre line.

A chance for the visitors to put points on the board was forthcoming as a penalty, following an infringement at a ruck, was awarded to them on the West 10 metre line. Pollock's kick was skewed short and wide, but excellent work by Phil Shields put pressure on the home defence and forced a handling error. Winning the subsequent scrum, the ball was passed wide to the right, where a further penalty was awarded to Guisborough.

Gareth Lodge tried his luck with a quick tap and charge towards the line where he was held up. Recycled ball came to Paul Lamb who bulldozed forward before he too was stopped short. Back came possession Guisborough's way and swift passing along the backline saw Alex Ruff dive over in the left corner to level the scores. Pollock was unlucky with the difficult conversion attempt, as it came back off the right upright.

Strong tackling by the Guisborough team was upsetting West's game and causing them to spill the ball with some thunderous hits being dished out. One such tackle in the hosts' 22 metre area saw the ball go loose. Robinson hacked the ball through but the ball was knocked on as he tried to scoop the ball up.

A further spillage by West saw Phil Shields kick through to within 5 metres of the hosts' tri-line, but he was just beaten to the ball by good covering defensive work and the home team kicked any danger clear.

Nearing the end of the first half, Guisborough had a scare when West's number 8 broke clear from a scrum in his own half. Eating up ground through the midfield, he passed the ball out to the left wing where the ball was knocked forward in the pass, 22 metres out, with an overlap available.

The scrum awarded for the forward pass was a messy affair and resulted in a skirmish between both teams. The referee had no alternative but to show yellow cards to Liam Corcoran and the West scrum-half, meaning that at half-time both teams were reduced to 14 players, with the scoreline reading: West Hartlepool 5 points, Guisborough 5 points.

Kicking off the second half, Guisborough were soon on the offensive. Winning a line-out in West territory, Will Muir attempted a cross kick which was collected by Ruff in the opposition 22. Passing to Robinson, the centre was tackled but he offloaded to Lamb. Under pressure the back-row forward knocked the ball on and West kicked clear.

Play was taking place solely in West territory but Guisborough could not capitalise, though Pollock tried his luck down the right wing on a couple of occasions, seeing his chip forward resulting in a 22 metre drop out to the hosts and being forced into touch when Shields ran a dummy line from his wing.

Withstanding Guisborough pressure, West eventually broke out of their half with another strong run from their number 8. Reaching the visitors' 22 metre line, another crunching tackle from Zac McCluskey saw Muir collect loose ball and pass to Pollock. Galloping forward to the half-way line, Robinson took over and sprinted into the opposition 22. With defenders covering, a short pop to the supporting Ruff saw the winger head towards the whitewash but excellent defending brought him down short.

A break from their own half through the midfield area resulted in West heading into Guisborough territory, but a tap tackle by Muir stopped any danger. Further solid tackling from the whole team kept any attacks by West out of red zone areas, before the ball was cleared.

Winning a scrum just inside the West half, Mike McDougall was hit with a high tackle, giving Pollock an opportunity to take his team into the lead for the first time. From 43 metres out his attempt had the distance but was just the wrong side of the bar.

Going into the final 10 minutes of the game, West were awarded a penalty 30 metres from the Guisborough tri-line. A quick tap took play into the 22 metre area, were a good angled run from their second row player took him over the line, but tremendous tackling stopped him from grounding the ball.

Unable to clear their defensive area, Guisborough were under huge pressure, but their tackling was thwarting all West attacks. However, following a rolling maul by the home team which was repelled by the visitors and stopped 5 metres from their line, a scrum was awarded. Won by the home pack, the ball was passed out to the left where a try was scored in the corner. The conversion went astray.

The frenetic pace continued as the game reached the final few minutes, but Guisborough were unable to trouble the scoreboard as West held on to their slender lead. It was left to the match official to bring the game to its conclusion with the scoreboard reading: West Hartlepool 10 points, Guisborough 5 points.

Guisborough were unlucky not to get more than the losing bonus point from this match. They more than matched their opposition in most aspects of the game. With more performances like this, reaching the top half of the table will be achieved.

Another difficult away trip to Morley awaits next week.

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