All Golds 18 - Hornets 38
For 45 minutes this was a ridiculous freak-show of a game. A veritable cornucopia of spectacular errors and farcical handling served up by two sides seemingly looking to out-do each other in the absurdity stakes.
Indeed the game began with a cock-up. After just one minute the usually reliable Gaz Langley dropped an All-Golds hoof downfield under no pressure. From the resulting scrum Hornets coughed a soft penalty and, with an air of (almost) inevitablility, the home side shipped the ball wide for Pywell to score. In keeping with the comedic mood, Bradley whacked the conversion attempt so wide the guys in the dug-out had to duck.
This opening movement was repeated almost note for note after 7 minutes: Gaz Langley dropping a straightforward kick with no All Golds player within 50 metres. This time the move breaking down 10m from the Hornets line.
Hornets persisted with some good approach work, but unable to find an incisive last tackle play. And when Hargreaves was nutmegged by a huge hit & hope 40/20 attempt, Hornets were let off the hook with a penalty for a double movement.
On 13 minutes, UGAG's super-sized number 8 Purslow executed a ludicrously high tackle on Danny Yates and was packed off to consider his actions for 10 minutes. Hornets' response was brisk. In a rare moment of lucidity a series of short passes off a Mike Ratu drive into a retreating defence fed Danny Bridge in for a try. Paul Crook converting off the touchline to edge Hornets in front 4-6.
Immediately, Hornets came up with a moment of almost slow-motion slapstick; Danny Yates fumbling the kick-off backwards over is head, Gaz Langley spilling the ball into the arms of the onrushing McClean who strolled under the black-dot for a bizzarre try. Bradley the two from in front. Hornets' lead lasting 45 seconds: 10-6.
The errors just kept coming. A forced, poorly-timed pass bounced off Dave Hull's chest. From the resulting possession the All golds came up with a last tackle kick going nowhere, but - in an attempt to clear the danger - a series of air-shots from the Hornets defence conceded a drop-out. The All Golds response took them close, but they couldn't quite get over the line. Then, on 27 minutes Tony Suffolk was put on report for lifting beyond the vertical. All a bit chaotic.
Fortunately, on 28 minutes, Paul Crook produced one of the game's two moments of genuine footballing quality: a cheeky show and go sucker-try from 5 metres, then converting his own try to take Hornets back in front at 10-12. It was a brief respite.
Two minutes later a forced pass from Jordan Case handed the home side easy possession, then a soft penalty for a swinging arm gave Bradley an easy shot at goal. 12-all.
The game was briefly held-up after a huge clash of heads that had Jordan Case and the All Golds Purslow drawing concern from the medical teams. On the restart - Hornets forced a drop-out off the back of a good Lewis Charnock break, then rapid hands to the left sent Dale Bloomfield in by the flag. Charnock the two and Hornets into the sheds leading 12-18.
If the travelling fans thought the first half was a car-crash, the second began with a doozy of a freak-try. A high All Golds last tackle kick, Ryan Smith completely losing the flight of the ball, slipping as he adjusted his footing, Mulkeen calmly gathering the bobbling ball to stroll in untouched. Bradley good with the boot 18-all.
It was the final act in a comedy of errors, as Hornets sucked in, dusted themselves down and went to work.
On 46 minutes James Tilley steamed in from 5 metres after a scrappy approach set; Charnock the two: 18-24
Then a great 70 metre approach-set saw Hornets hand-over possession on the All Golds line, followed by a dink and chase off a free-play that had the home defence scrambling to cover. You could sense the momentum shift.
On the hour Lewis Charnock's lofted kick was knocked back by Dale Bloomfield; Mike Ratu juggled the ball to the line, where Danny Yates took the last pass to score. Crooky hitting the post from wide-out: 18-28.
Three minutes later, it was Mike Ratu again causing panic at the heart of the home defence: his dancing feet taking hin close, quick hands right putting Brad Hargreaves in at the corner. 18-32.
Cometh the 70th minutes, cometh another moment of sheer quality from Paul Crook - the Ginger General dummying his way to the line from 40 metres, leaving a trail of bamboozled defenders in his wake. He added the two for good measure and Hornets racked the cue to run-out 18-38 winners.
The first 45 minutes of this game will stick in the mind, if only for the number and magnitude of errors produced by both sides. And, while the last 35 minutes weren't exacly a classic example of flowing football, it heartened the travelling Hornets faithful that their side found a way to roll-up its collective sleeves and dig-deep to come up with a convincing victory.
Certainly Hornets look like a side searching for a bit of rhythm and direction - but when the error-count is so high, it's all you can do to keep your shape and keep going forward.
Ultimately, a win is a win and it gets the season off the ground. But I don't envy Tol and his coaching team having to watch this one again.