Having spent the day watching Legends rugby union rather than watch Essex smash their way to another T20 Blast win I decided that it was to be cricket for me rather than a trip to Enfield to watch London Skolars play Hemel Stags. It was a slightly reluctant choice as the Championship local derby is always a good, fiery game. So, off to Colchester I went, with my fellow cricket loving friend Tina.
The weather however had other plans for us as the storm clouds followed us up the A12. A very cheap cup of tea (50p??) and a lovely chat with a Hampshire fanatic from Bradford – go figure – and we took the decision to high tail it back down the A12 to introduce Tina to her first ever game of rugby league. Her impression of union hadn’t been a good one but I felt certain the Skolars and Stags would serve up some fine entertainment.
Having had a dire result followed by a spirited loss Skolars were going to have to lift their game to beat Hemel and ‘do the double’ over their local rivals. For me this fixture brings mixed feelings as I watched both teams before Hemel were promoted in some style. Being something of a shouter at league games I find myself wanting to shout for both at times – a slight conflict! Hemel kicked off and Skolars made good ground with their 1st attack; the ball seemed to have been knocked on by Stags but the officials didn’t see it that way.
Hemel kicked on their last tackle and Jermaine Coleman took the Skolars player out from a blatantly offside position, but Skolars failed to capitalise on the early penalty. It was to be Hemel who scored 1st after a poor kick from Skolars straight into the hands of a Stags player; the ball was moved wide with some speed and James Cameron, a player who stood out in both the home and away fixtures, scored. He benefited from some poor defending by Skolars and I’d say the home crowd’s spirits plummeted. BJ Swindells a Hemel stalwart and a very fine kicker of the ball added the extras with a challenging kick.
Having seen the effectiveness of the 40/20 kick when Matty Smith of Wigan gave his team great field position twice against London Broncos it was no surprise to see Hemel going for the same tactic. Big brother Jermaine Coleman missed with his attempt but Jy-mel made it. We then had a bit of silliness as the ref reset the scrum twice! I honestly never expect to have to type those words when I’m talking rugby league!! Jy-mel Coleman looked to make the most of his kick but was held up over the line; However Evan Simons virtually strolled through the defence facing little resistance to score. BJ Swindells missed the kick this time. Things were feeling slightly ominous from the viewpoint of the Skolars fans; the introduction of Ant Cox changed all that as Martyn Smith passed the ball out to him close to the Stags line, he scored a great try with what was probably his 1st touch of the ball! Courtney Davies missed the kick. Skolars attacked from the kick off but Davies dropped the ball as he seemed to take his eyes off as the ball was passed. James Hill benefited from the error as he flew down the wing to score the visitors 3rd try, he ran totally untroubled by a defender; again the kick was missed.
It was to be Stags who made the next error as the ball was dropped in the 1st tackle and Mufaro Mvududu who made the most of the error after Danny Yates flicked the ball over his head into Mvududu’s hands. A difficult kick was missed. Skolars put the next points on the scoreboard after the ball was lost in the tackle by Stags, a great pass to John Paxton saw him break and make a great run, who should be on his shoulder but Ant Cox, looking more like a winger than a prop! Cox scored his 2nd and this time Mike Bishay stepped up to convert the try taking the scores to 14 a piece. Bishay combined with Courtney Davies for the next try, chipping the ball over for Davies to collect and run in for the try; Bishay added the extras and Skolars took the lead! Michael Sykes made a break for Skolars after John Paxton had taken a kick through by Jy-mel Coleman, Mike Bishay was tracking and he turned try scorer this time. The successful conversion by Bishay took the score to Skolars 26 Stags 14 at half time.
The Skolars started as they’d finished in the 2nd half after a great kick by Courtney Davies gave the home team the scrum advantage. Ryan McDonald using all of his strength went over the line to score with several Stags players hanging off him; Bishay scored the conversion. Judd Greenhalgh was lucky to get away with a bad tackle on Jermaine Coleman but Skolars were made to pay not long after when Matt Tebb made a great pass to Romain Navarette who strolled in untroubled to score. The kick was missed. We had the standard passage of errors from both teams as the ball was dropped and penalties were given away. James Cameron; the very exciting full back for Stags had a great run up the centre of the pitch, he looks really classy with ball in hand. The play continued and in spite of one of the passes looking forward, James Hill scored his second try of the game.
The kick from BJ Swindells hit the post. There was a controversial moment when Mike Bishay seemed to take the ball in goal, a kick out was awarded however; in reality the referee was slightly closer to the play than those of us in the stands! Mike McKeeken managed to slip a pass out to James Cameron after Skolars fell off the tackles, again a Stags player found himself unmarked and Cameron ran in to score. Things were getting tight and it looked as if a much needed home win might elude Skolars again. Now a rugby league match report wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t have a moan about an injury and its treatment. This time it was Lamont Bryan who took the blow to his head, naturally he carried on after a little attention!
We had a small show of handbags before the game finished, almost inevitable in this derby; both teams are desperate to get the win. The win was to be London Skolars’ as there were no more tries, Courtney Davies added a penalty to the home teams’ total and the score finished on London Skolars 34 Hemel Stags 26. A thoroughly enjoyable game of rugby league played with a great deal of passion by both sides. And for the newbie? Tina enjoyed the game, much preferring it to rugby union. Am I one of the few who loves both codes?