Following their loss to Durham last week Lookers-sponsored Westoe needed to shore up their defence and play smart attacking rugby.
Danger signs went up after some scrappy, loose play led to Rovers taking the lead after only two minutes. A wild looping pass from Arnold went to no-one, allowing Rover’s Adam Smith to kick the ball through and chase down to score near the posts. 0-7
Westoe’s back-line, eager to take the advantage, looked to be forcing the ball and trying too hard; a series of dangerous miss-passes and long floating balls were always in danger of being picked off.
However, it was an error from Rovers that led to the next score. A poorly executed line-out, put them under pressure and Captain Andy Kirton took full advantage, charging down the clearance kick and touching down after twelve minutes. 5-7
Within a minute, Rovers took their second try; an interception from another long pass, allowing centre David Grand to sprint 50m untouched. 5-12
In a half strewn with errors, Westoe upped the tempo and pressure on the visitors, turning first to their strong pack, who pounded the Rovers’ defence and then to a settling back-line who realised that simple passing and straight running would gain more than the flamboyant high-risk play of the first quarter.
Strong running from James Sant and Ryan Lamb in the pack were supplemented by some direct attacks from the back line; Arnold feeding Worthington and Sutherland in Westoe’s mid-field who showed power and control; whilst the speed and danger of Westoe’s back three looked ominous and ready to explode.
25 minutes in saw Jamie Preston field a poor clearance kick and fly down the wing where he found support in Andy Sutherland, Michael Booth and finally Jake Arnold for the equalising score, converted by Sutherland. 12-12
Solid defence and determination from the visitors held firm and despite some intense attacking prevented any further breeches in their line for the half, which ended with a Westoe penalty, converted by Sutherland 12-15
Now playing down the famous Westoe slope and with a strong breeze behind them, the home side came out firing on all cylinders with a sublime try after only two minutes.
A strong scrum allowed Sam Gaff to pick from eight and working in a narrow blind-side, draw in the defence and pop to Booth, again running straight in the crowded corridor. Fullback Louis Hagan came into the line creating a two on one for Mark McMahon who flew through the slightest of gaps to out-pace the defence for a 40m run-in. 20-12
Within five minutes, Westoe’s second of the half came after Rovers’ full-back failed to field a kick, with Sutherland pouncing on the ball and flicking up for Sam Gaff, who showed his pace to cross the line untouched for Westoe’s fourth and bonus-point try. 27-12
With Rovers never giving up, Westoe’s superior fitness and the challenge of the hill, meant they never really managed to get back into contention, with Westoe showing that when they play simple they are a match for anyone in the league.
Twenty-four minutes into the half and Westoe scored their fifth. Another dominant scrum, another pick-and-go from Sam Gaff, more straight direct running and intelligent support play from Michael Booth and excellent direct finishing from Louis Hagan who took route one through the defence to score. Converted by Sutherland. 34-12
Try six came after some direct running from Kirton and McMahon, the subsequent ruck being taken on by player-coach Graeme Smith, supported by Sean Ramsay who took the tackle and offloaded to live-wire Paul Evans who finished the job under the posts. 41-8
Westoe finished off from yet another strong scrum and pick-and-go from Sam Gaff, who spotted that the defence were concentrating on the fast men out wide, dummied the last defender and strolled through the gap for Westoe’s seventh of the day. Converted by Sutherland, final score 48-12
Westoe will do well to note the second half success and tries scored through simple passing, straight, direct running and tireless support play. Although it took good play from Rovers’ players, they need to ensure that they don’t allow the opposition any chances with wild, risky passes and to trust their pace, power and intelligent play.
Yet again, Westoe dominated in the pack, despite missing powerhouses Raymie Elliott and John Younghusband, showing their strength in depth. Great to see Graeme Smith back in a Westoe shirt after missing almost the whole of last season with a shoulder injury and taking his spot with fellow veterans Hayden Richards and Chris Judson on the bench.