Hornets 40 - Hemel Stags 22
At 3.45, there was an eerie feeling that we'd seen this game somewhere before. A week earlier at a sun-soaked Cheltenham Hornets had raced into a commanding lead only to give the opposition a foothold in the game. And so it was again.
Cheered on by a huge crowd (impressively bigger than four of the games in the division above) Hornets went off with an impressive bang. As Danny Yates hit Danny Davies arriving at unstoppable speed after just eight minutes, things didn't look good for the Stags.
|Try-scorer Jordan Case|
Then, when Yates released a teasing, bouncing kick that was superbly snaffled by Wayne English just three minutes later (both converted by Gaz Langley), it felt like a matter of 'how many' . And when Jordan Case blasted through Hemel's centre channel on a mesmersing 70 metre run that ended with him spectacularly dummying the full-back to score a try that brought the crowd to its feet, the game appeared to be speeding away from the visitors. Langley added the two - 18-nil with just 15 minutes on the clock.
But a series of daft mistakes, soft penalties and some indifferent defending gave Hemel their chance. And they took it well. In just 10 minutes, a Coleman try sandwiched between two efforts from Swindells saw the Stags breathing down Hornets' neck at 18-16. The squeak of sphincters was palpable and it was a stern-faced Ian Talbot that headed for the dressing rooms at the break.
Whatever was said, it worked. Hornets began the second half at a significantly higher tempo on attack and defence. It took only three minutes for the Two-Dannys (Yates and Davies) to combine to send the latter in for a well taken try.
With Hornets now building pressure deep in Hemel territory, the visitors' big men were clearly wilting in the heat and, with the more-mobile Hornets pack making serious inroads, it was only a matter of time before the Stags' defence cracked. And it was prop Warren Thompson who wrestled his way over on 55 minutes, Gaz Langley adding the two.
On their next possession in the Hemel Half, Hornets worked the ball wide via Steve Roper as Martin Waring was slotted in by the flag. Gaz Langley's conversion attempt drifted teasingly wide to end his three-game 100% run of kicks.
Hornets were now giving the visitors a taste of their own well-established medicine: the big forwards Cookson, Thompson and Forster pounding the Stags backwards. And it was Warren Thompson again taking advantage to bag his second on 71 minutes. Gaz Langley adding the two; 40-16 and job seemingly done.
As Hornets made late replacements, Hemel had one last throw of the dice and found the ball to send Young in with a minute remaining. Swindells added the two and - having played the role of spectators for 39 minutes of the second half, the Stags were suddenly within reaching distance of a bonus point they didn't really deserve. But Hornets held firm and denied them. Indeed, with Forster and Cookson both 'held-up' over the line twice, and Wayne English adjudged similarly, this could have been a far more convincing victory.
Ian Talbot commented afterwards that his side were neither 'fluent of fluid', but when the cogs engaged Hornets were a class apart. Even Stags coach Troy Perkins conceded afterwards that "it could've been 70 or 80 points".
In the end, this was a great day for Hornets as a club. The Co-Operatives day and ticket offer succeeded beyond expectations - creating a great atmosphere and introducing lots of new people to Rugby League.
So a win-win - and that's not something you see very often.