Huddersfield 40-14 Hemel Stags
Hemel Stags’ dreams of reaching the National League Grand Final have been shattered after a 40-14 defeat to Huddersfield Underbank Rangers.
It was a bruising victory for Huddersfield against a valiant and gutsy Hemel outfit who made it a real contest for the first hour before falling away in the final quarter of the game.
It had all looked so different for Hemel during the opening stages of the match as the powerful Stags pack rampaged up the slope at The Cross.
However, the introduction from the bench of inspirational back-up hooker Andy Boothroyd changed the complexion of the game and – after trailing by eight points after 26 minutes – the hosts posted three rapid tries to lead 18-8 at the break.
Hemel set the initial tempo and took an early lead after four minutes as in-form prop James Howitt crashed over following a Barry John Swindells break and good approach work from hooker Martyn Smith. Ryan Butcher added the extras.
Stags continued to press and extend their lead when Neil Barrett obstructed a kick chaser, allowing and Butcher to make it 8-0 with a penalty.
It was then, though, that Boothroyd came on and changed the complexion of the game as Huddersfield hit back with three tries before half-time to take the lead.
The Stags had the strong breeze and pitch slope in their favour in the second period but were never allowed to exploit the elements as Rangers’ tigerish defence caused a host of errors from the visitors.
And Hemel did not help themselves by conceding a string of penalties midway through the half.
The hosts gained increasing control after the tone had been set early on, and extended their lead when Hemel lost possession with a knock-on at the first tackle inside their own 20 metre area.
That allowed Underbank to run a sixth-tackle power play, with outstanding prop Sam Dalby crashing over.
However, Stags launched one final assault to keep their season alive, with Swindells latching on to Butcher’s cross-field kick and cantering in from 20 metres.
Rangers, though, responded with a two-try salvo to seal the victory and secure their Grand Final appearance – although the first had an element of fortune about it.
Dalby drove the ball into the Hemel defensive line, but the youngster appeared to lose possession as he played the ball.
It was missed by the match officials and Adam Carroll found Richard Knight who raced onto the pass to score.
Shortly after, back-rower Nick Briggs crossed after the visitors’ discipline let them down again as they conceded penalties in the danger area.
With Serbian international Illya Radan in the bin for a clumsy late challenge, Rangers had the last word when centre Adam Ryder beat three defenders to score. Barrett converted to wrap up the win.