BRIGHOUSE RANGERS 12 HEMEL STAGS 16
HEMEL Stags will surely look back on this attritional West Yorkshire mud-bath and smile when they savour 75-degree temperatures in Toronto next July. Ambitious Brighouse may have less glamorous destinations to visit in the near future but they will, to a man, also appreciate the benefits when contesting the forthcoming Summer League.
Both sides gave their absolute all in desperately draining and progressively deteriorating conditions and, at 12-12 and with referee David Sharpe beginning to glance at his mud-splattered watch, few would have argued that a draw wouldn’t have been a fair result. But, for the second time in under two months, following their last gasp breakaway try defeat against the Toronto Wolfpack select before Christmas, brave Rangers were denied by a score in the dying moments which completed a late Hemel comeback.
Stags coach Troy Perkins admitted there was little to learn on a usually excellent Russell Way pitch that rapidly became a quagmire after recent rain, sleet and snow but said:“I wanted to improve match fitness and get some good game time for those who hadn’t played much in our previous friendlies. “We showed a bit of character to come back from 12-4 down by scoring three tries in the last 15 minutes, as fitness began to kick in, but we still had to get the ball down in extremely difficult conditions.”
The Pennine League side struck first as any gulf in class or difference in physical size was quickly masked by the mud and increasingly slippery going. Anton Ambler picked up a bobbling Jake Hyde kick to score and, despite Josh Halliday replying for Hemel, the tenacious and tough tackling hosts held on for a 6-4 half-time lead.
Early in the second half young half back Harley Axe skipped clear of the Rangers defence only to lose his footing, then a Marcus Elliott pass was deemed forward to deny Charlie Brown a try in the corner. This pattern continued with the Stags bombing what looked like certain tries albeit the conditions playing a big part in the final pass going astray .
Against the run of play Rangers extended their lead when Troy Ambler - Anton’s brother - supported an off-load from the impressive Ben Waud, who played half a dozen games for the Stags when at Leicester University last year. More gutsy defence followed from Brighouse, who suffered a catalogue of disruptive knocks - most notably Hyde (ankle) and Liam Stead (shin), with Stags Marcus Elliott thwarted after a 60-metre break by a wonderful Andy Collins chase and tackle.
But Charlie Brown finally levelled the score with two quick-fire tries - grounding a Jorge Richardson grubber which stopped in the mud, then running onto a long cut-out pass from the same man - before Andy Walker snatched victory for the Stags after taking Richardson’s supply pass two minutes from time. Jamie Barraclough landed both conversions for Rangers while Dom Horn (three times) and Richardson failed to add to any tries from the visitors, who rested roughly half the squad that is expected to play host to Gloucestershire All Golds in the League One Cup next weekend at Pennine Way
GAMESTAR: Jack O’Brien - the Stags’ young Australian loose forward ran hard and tackled enthusiastically throughout.
GAMEBREAKER: Andy Walker’s decisive try at the end as the seemingly tireless Rangers defence finally wilted on the fringe.
Marcus Elliot, Charlie Brown, Declan Tomlinson, Andy Walker, Darren Forde, Josh Halliday, Jorge Richardson, Wayne Jowett, Scott Lee, Benoit Rogers, Danny Samuels, Dom Horn, Jack O’Brien
Subs (all used),Harley Axe, James Thornton, Jono Burns ©, Jordan Parry, Will Copley, Kevin Wroe
Tries: Halliday (9), Brown (68, 71), Walker (78)
Goals: Horn (0/3), Richardson (0/1)
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6-0, 6-4, 12-4, 12-8, 12-12, 12-16.