Hemel Stags made a flying start to the 2015 Championship 1 season as they thumped London Skolars 34-12 at The New River Stadium on Good Friday.
This year the fixture had an extra helping of spice to it as the newly appointed head coach of the Skolars is Jermaine Coleman who, until two weeks ago, was assistant to Hemel coach Troy Perkins.
It was not a happy reunion for Coleman, though, as it was the Stags who ran out comfortable winners courtesy of a dominant performance.
The visitors nearly got the scoreboard moving soon after the kick-off when loose forward Eddie M’Baraga was stopped just short of the line.
Skolars pressed the Hemel defence in response, buoyed by back to back penalties, before Hemel opened the scoring when a good charge by BJ Swindells was finished by debutante winger Mo Agoro who had signed on loan from Hunslet Hawks earlier in the week. Swindells was on the mark with the kick to improve the try.
The Hemel try seemed to bring the best out of the Skolars, however, and the following 15 minutes were without doubt their best period of the game as they pushed the Stags on to the back foot for a while.
First the hosts were held up over the line and then they were rewarded with a repeat set of six tackles for their pressure. The Stags defence held on until the 20th minute when former Stag Kazeem Fatouri-Edwards went over. Sam Druce converted and the scores were level at six points each.
Hemel replied five minutes later as centre Jamie O’Callaghan finished a move started by a barnstorming charge from prop Nathan Darby – another Hunslet loanee.
Although Swindells missed the kick, he did add another two points when the Skolars were penalised for ripping the ball from Rob Thomas’ grasp – with Thomas clearly relishing playing against his former team-mates.
Neither side troubled the scorer again in the first half as play became concentrated in the middle of the park.
What was said by Hemel coach Perkins at half-time clearly had the desired effect as his team came out for the second stanza showing an increased intensity in their play.
It took the visitors only two minutes to increase their lead as a clever high kick by Charlie Lawrence was spilt by the Skolars. From the scrum, Hemel applied pressure near their opponents’ line until diminutive Aussie hooker James Helliwell somehow found enough room to squeeze under his markers and touch down.
The impressive Thomas went on another charge and produced an offload that seemed to come from nowhere but eventually the attack broke down.
Max Edwards of the Skolars was causing some problems for Hemel and he was unlucky when he couldn’t quite make the line.
It was, though, only a brief excursion into Hemel territory by Skolars and they were soon defending fiercely again as a great run by the classy Agoro ended in a penalty to Hemel in front of the posts and Swindells took the two points on offer.
Skolars soon gained a repeat set but Hemel defended well and then scored the try of the game as a kick through by Lawrence was caught on the volley at full speed by Agoro. He then simply had to canter under the posts for a try that was simply stunning in its simplicity and precision. Swindells’ conversion took the score to 24-6 in Hemel’s favour.
Lawrence, who was having an excellent game, started the move for the next Hemel try; he caught a Skolars bomb almost on his own line before passing to full-back Derrel Olpherts who ran the length of the pitch to score. Swindells again added the extras.
Hemel’s final try came on 73 minutes; again the Skolars’ defence was split wide open, and this time it was a pass from James Woodburn-Hall to Alex Anthony on the left wing that did the damage.
To give credit to Skolars they never dropped their heads and got another try on 78 minutes; a tired-looking Hemel defence allowing Fairhurst through for a consolation try converted by Druce.
The Stags will be back in action next Sunday when they entertain Keighley Cougars at Pennine Way.
The Yorkshiremen are many people’s favourites to gain promotion so should, in theory, provide a sterner test for Hemel.