BRAVE Underbank Rangers’ perfect home record was finally tarnished as Hemel Stags took the spoils in a tense 22-26 thriller that went to the wire.
Regarded as a potential National Conference Division III title-decider and it was the visitors who struck first in the contest.
Luke Watling opened the scoring before Barry Swindells and Nick Wong took advantage of Jay Senior’s first half sin-binning as each went over the line.
Nick Briggs provided hope after the break before Dave Afreh reinstated Hemel’s 18-point lead.
Will Midgley and Richard Knight led a late fight back by going over before Ryan Butcher kicked a penalty and created an eight point gap to ensure another Midgley try proved irrelevant.
The final score was a reflection of Underbank’s never-say-die attitude after they looked out of sorts in a first half where Hemel threatened a run-away score line with the home side trailing 18-0 at the break.
But their battling spirit provided a late surge of three tries in ten minutes with only the final whistle denying them a likely decider.
Player-coach Knight felt the sin-binning proved crucial and said: “The first half lost us the game. Against the top of the league, you are going to struggle to come back from 18-0 down.
“We started the game pretty well and then Jay Senior came on but within two minutes he gave away two penalties and got himself sin-binned.
“They scored twice when we were down to 12 men.
“The problem is we had just brought a fresh player on, but he got himself binned when he was supposed to be the player that gave us that lift – unfortunately that didn’t happen.
“But the lads dug in there in the second half and we had a good response. If they didn’t score that fourth try then it would have been a different ball game.”
With the top of the league place at stake, an anxious opening was on the cards and it came as no surprise when an individual error provided the first chance of the match.
Courtney Allette dropped a kick over his own line which allowed Watling in to pounce on the loose ball, Butcher added the kick.
After a further 20 tense minutes it appeared Allette had rectified his mistake by going over in the corner, but the cheers were quickly silenced when the touch judge ruled the winger’s foot to be in touch as he went over.
The victory reaffirms Hemel’s status as league leaders and leaves Bank looking to get back to winning ways when they travel to third place Warrington Wizards on Saturday.
Underbank: Chatterton; Midgley, Knight, Ryder, Allette; Barrett, Usher; Valentine, Berry, Dalby, St Hilaire, Joyce, Briggs. Interchange: Pawson, Senior, Coyne, Williams
Hemel Stags: Swindells; Champion, M’Barga, Henderson, Fyson; Watling, Butcher; Aldam, Wong, Chester, Thompson-Essex, Ward, Pritchard. Interchange: Clarke, Phillips, Boyd-Barnes, Afreh