NORTH HERTS CRUSADERS 12 – 16 BRISTOL ALL GOLDS
Christopher Wilson at Hitchin RFC
North Herts Crusaders and the Bristol All Golds fought out a tense and exciting battle in constant rain with the All Golds coming out on top thanks to two well-taken tries from Billy Hooper and a touchdown from Brandon Lamb.
After Hooper’s second score gave them the lead with over a quarter of the game left, an enthralling battle saw both sides attack and defend with courage and determination but the Bristol side held out for their first win of the season.
Next week they will make the long journey to Colchester to face the Eastern Rhinos looking for a repeat of last season’s 46-6 play-off win.
Five years ago, in warm and dry conditions, the All Golds beat the Crusaders 32-22 to win the Harry Jepson Trophy and complete an unbeaten season. This meeting was a completely different affair.
The Bristol side were coming into the game on the back of a 42-10 loss to London Chargers while, for the Crusaders, this was their first outing of the season.
Errors were frequent throughout the game due in part to the constant rain but the ferocious defence from both sides also played a role. That chances came and went regularly, added to the tension and interest for the hardy souls who braved the elements to support their team.
Both sides spent time camped on their goalline as their opponents tried to batter their way over the whitewash. The All Golds however, bravely tried to play some rugby and on several occasions, gained good yardage coming out of danger to give themselves an attacking platform at the end of their set.
Two well-taken tries from All Golds’ man of the match Billy Hooper and one from captain Brandon Lamb gave the Bristolians a four-point advantage which they held on to for over a quarter of the game to gain their first win of the season.
The opening exchanges were dominated by the All Golds as they put pressure on the home line. The Crusaders hung on grimly as first Jack Uren and then Owen Priest got over the line but failed to ground the ball to the referee’s satisfaction.
The home side made the most of those escapes. A rare set of tackles in All Golds territory ended with James Hunt taking a desperate offload to dive over in the corner. Joe Hall landed a fine goal from out wide for a 6-0 lead after 17 minutes’ play.
The All Golds hit back only to be denied again having thought they’d crossed the whitewash through a close range sneak from dummy half by Priest.
Finally, after a period of sustained possession, they got their reward, Hooper breaking a tackle to crash over under the posts. On their next set, the All Golds made good ground upfield, and on the last tackle, good work from Uren sent Lamb over by the sticks. Greg Hamilton added both goals and the visitors saw out the half to lead 12-6 at the break.
The battle resumed in the second period, with both sides throwing everything at each other. Ten minutes in, the home side levelled matters through Tommy Wilcock, again Hall adding a difficult goal.
There was no choosing between the sides and a draw would probably have been a fair outcome. Both attacked hard but the All Golds showed a little more ambition, on at least two occasions making good yards from defence by giving their play some width.
What turned out to be the winning try came with over a quarter of the game remaining and just three minutes after the Crusaders had levelled.
The home side conceded a penalty for obstruction and on the second tackle, excellent set -up play gave Darrion Ball the space and time to put Hooper into a gap and the second row did the rest for his second try of the game.
Hamilton could not convert, and the game was poised for a tense final 25 minutes.
Neither side could gain an advantage, though the Crusaders had slightly more possession than the visitors but just couldn’t make it count.
Their final chance came four minutes from the final whistle. Mike Holden was forced to hack a dangerous low skidding kick from the home side into touch, giving the Crusaders a full set close to the All Golds’ line.
However, they spilled the ball on the first tackle and the visitors held on for the win.
Both sides deserve great credit for putting on a superb display of skill and heart in dreadful conditions to produce a tremendous game which could have gone either way right up to the end.
Crusaders: Hugo Lennie; Philip Ryan, Daniel Odita, Kudakwashe Gurure, Josh Dell; Joe Hall, Jaden Elley Murphy; Matthew Trussell, William Evans, Luke de Normanville; Tommy Wilcock, Connor Bridge; Sam Woodward; INTERCHANGE: Brodie Feaver, James Hunt, Alex Nolan.
Tries: Hunt (17), Wilcock (50)
Goals: Hall 2 from 2.
ALL GOLDS: Mike Holden; Rohan Chatterjee, Henry Symons, Morgan Lewis, Nathan Tucker; Jack Uren, Darrion Ball; Ross Rochelle, Owen Priest, George Murray; Billy Hooper, Kieran Webb; Brandon Lamb (Capt); INTERCHANGE: Greg Hamilton, Jay Woodley, Adam Turner, Louis Birch.
Tries: Hooper (27, 53), Lamb (30)
Goals: Hamilton 2 from 3.
All Golds player of the Match: Billy Hooper defended strongly made several line breaks as well as scoring two good tries to help his side to a first victory of the season.
Scoring sequence: 6-0, 6-6, 6-12, (HT), 12-12, 12-16, (FT)
Penalty Count: 11-3
Referee: Matthew Cowan