Hemel Stags v London Skolars – A Championship 1 Derby

With a long weekend beckoning what better way to spend Good Friday than watching rugby!  I had 2 games planned, one rugby league and one union (report already written for that one) so that felt like a perfect day for me.  Having watched London Broncos on the Thursday night I stayed overnight in Borehamwood – I know how to live – and set off for a Starbucks breakfast before I headed to Hemel Hempstead.  As I was eating my healthy fruit bread (based on the fact it has fruit!) I spotted on Twitter that there was an earlier game between Hemel Reserves and North Herts Crusaders; so I drank my ‘hot’ chocolate – which is never actually hot – and headed to Hemel Hempstead.  The Stags home ground is a great place to watch rugby league and having pre-planned I booked my ticket online for a mere 9 English Pounds!  A real bargain!

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The game between Hemel Reserves and North Herts Crusaders had already started, it becomes a bit of a problem for me watching teams play in the south as I have a soft spot for a fair few of them!  I’d seen the Crusaders play in a cup game last year and recognised a few of the players; one, playing at number 7, Charlie Parkhouse I’d like to highlight as a possible star of the future.  At the young age of 17 he plays with skill and assurance in a very tough game; I’ll be keeping an eye out for him.  A bit of background on the Crusaders – they’ve been going for 3 years and run 3 senior and 2 junior teams, they play in the Eastern Premier League and last year won both the league and the cup.  They lost only one game, the one I went to see them play!  Hemel Reserves play in the London League and are clearly part of a semi-pro set up; the first half of the game was an even contest but Hemel edged the action in the second half to win by 36 to 24.  It was a tough game and thoroughly enjoyable to watch!

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With the friendly over we moved on to the main event.  This is the second year the 2 teams have played in the same league after Stags were promoted as league winners for the 2013 season; I’d watched both teams when they were in different league so very much a case of mixed loyalties for me.  Hemel have had a much better start to the season with Skolars only getting their first win in the previous game.  It would be interesting to see who came out on top.  Skolars were to be first to score after Martyn Smith looking very Rob Burrows like scurried over to score, Matt Bradley added the extras with a simple conversion.  A series of errors by both teams followed and Stags capitalised on a fumble by Skolars after Mitch Barbara kicked the ball through, BJ Swindells took full advantage and scored, he converted his own try.

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There were some very big hits going in, a real sign that we were watching a real local derby, as is often the case with rugby it yet again looked as if the team making the fewer errors would triumph.  James Cameron of Stags took the kick of well but failed to make his feet properly giving away a penalty, but Skolars failed to benefit as they were penalised for crossing.  We very nearly had handbags early on as Michael Worrincy decided to throw the ball at BJ Swindells giving away yet another penalty as a result.  Stags had several attacking chances with James Cameron making a great run after taking a Skolars kick.  Mitch Barbara spotted a gap in the Skolars defence and ran straight through to score under the posts; Swindells added the extras. The officials missed a shoulder barge by Stags Dan Lijzouli, never a good thing in such a game; it’s always a worry that players will take matters into their own hands.  Skolars were at risk of playing’ one man rugby’ and looked to be going nowhere but Martyn Smith having previously knocked on over the line again ran through to score a try, Bradley again converted the try.  The teams went in after a tough half of rugby on 12 apiece.

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London Skolars came out after what must have been a good team talk and although they had a kick charged down twice Louis Robinson ran in to score under the posts making things easy again for Matt Bradley.  The second half was end to end stuff and James Howitt went over the line for Stags but was held up.  In my opinion there were far too many potentially dangerous tackles taking place, too many where the legs were being lifted with no action taken.  A red card was however brandished for Skolars Sam Wellings, it was very unclear what it was for, but in retrospect it was deemed he’d made a high tackle, the punishment seemed harsh.  This should have been advantage Stags but it was Skolars who scored next.  Dennis Tuffour made a great break and looked likely to score, he was caught by the Stags defence but they’d left themselves stretched and Judd Greenhalgh took full advantage.  Bradley again converted the try taking the score to Hemel Stags 12 London Skolars 24.

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The Stags took some advantage back after Jy-mel Coleman put in a great 40/20 kick to put his team in a great attacking position;  the officials seemed a little uncertain on what to do initially before recalling the rules!  Swindells went very close to scoring as did James Cameron but Eddie Mbaraga made no mistake and scored the 4 points, Swindells added the 2 points to close the gap to 6.  Coleman kicked another huge 40/20 – it’s rare to see one let alone 2 of these kicks in superleague let alone at this level, so 2 very impressive kicks!  Mitch Barbara attacked the Skolars line but went down with what looked like a very bad leg injury – I believe he broke his ankle – the injury seemed to be a pure accident but it didn’t stop the players piling into each other; tempers were certainly flaring!  Skolars had a good attacking chance but Dave Williams knocked on.  A penalty went Stags way after a bad tackle on Mbaraga, Aaron Smith had a juggle with the ball but went over to score, with the successful conversion the teams were again even on 24 apiece.

Skolars kicked off with a clever ball along the ground but Stags took the ball and attempted a drop goal from a long way out on the last tackle, they weren’t successful but moments later Matt Bradley was to put the visitors one point ahead.  Bradley stretched the lead to 3 points when Stags were awarded a penalty after a high tackle.  The scores finished Hemel Stags 24 London Skolars 27 – a hugely enjoyable and entertaining game and a great way to spend a Good Friday afternoon!

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