BUFFALOS DIG DEEP TO WIN.
by Andy Coldrick
Hemel Stags 20 (14) v Bramley Buffaloes 32 (6)
The Buffaloes produced a performance of two halves as they opened the defence of their title with a hard fought 20-32 away win at Hemel on Sunday. Ill discipline and a lack of cohesion in the first half, which also saw skipper Paul Drake dismissed (for the second week in a row), was replaced in the second half by a more controlled approach which resulted in a gutsy away win.
After a very impressive performance the previous week against South London Storm, Nicky Fontaine retained his place at fullback. Jimmy Waddington reverted to his favoured position of wing and Richard Hulme returned at hooker. Daniel Lavery was rewarded for his good pre-season and two good hit-outs with a place in the starting line-up. A strong bench was made up of the versatile Dan Caston, Graham Harrison and Craig Green, whilst recent new acquisition Dave Parker made up the 17 after two solid performances off the bench. Hemel Stags had many familiar names in their line-up and they too had played a number of pre-season games to get ready for the season.
Not for the first time on their visits to Hemel, the Buffaloes started slowly and fell behind early on. Bramley were penalised in the first set of the match and this was rapidly followed by two more penalties in quick succession for stripping the ball and holding down. With excellent field position handed to them, Hemel scrum half Robbie Witt (brother of Michael Witt at Crusaders) sliced through the sliding defence to score by the right of the posts on 5 minutes, BJ Swindells easily converted. Bramley conceded two more penalties and further Stags pressure resulted in a Bramley drop-out. Bramley weathered the early storm, Tony Williams was just held up and then Bramley had a try ruled out for a forward pass. However on 16 minutes they did breach the Hemel defence to score. A huge Drake bomb was very well taken by winger McIntyre, however Richardson bundled him into touch. From the resulting scrum a Williams flat pass saw Fontaine glide through a hole and score easily under the posts, Drake converted. The Buffaloes untidy start continued when Richard Leese knocked on from the re-start, two plays later and the jubilant Stags had scored again after quick hands put winger Fryston over in the corner, Swindells added a fine touchline conversion. Bramley responded immediately had what looked like a perfectly good try ruled out for offside as Hulme collected a delicate Drake kick to score. Tempers continued to be frayed and numerous minor skirmishes flared up, as the referee struggled to keep a lid on the game. Swindells added a penalty on 29 minutes to ease Hemel out to a 14-6 lead. Hemel continued to look strong going forward and continually asked questions of the Buffaloes defence, however Bramley for their part looked disjointed in attack, highlighted by two plays ending with the ball been thrown into touch. On 37 minutes Bramley’s task got even harder when skipper Drake was shown a straight red for use of the knees in the tackle. The first half ended with a 4-10 penalty count in Hemel’s favour and coach Mark Butterill frustrated by his team’s performance and failure to stick to the gameplan.
The second half certainly started better for Bramley. A good first set was completed with a Williams bomb which went unchallenged by the Hemel defence, Bramley regained possession for a second set 40m out from the Hemel line. Good crisp passing saw John Richardson get over in the corner to reduce the deficit, there was no conversion from Williams. Inexplicably Bramley lost the ball from the re-start 20m from their own line. However Hemel threw a lazy pass which Nick Fontaine intercepted, he was eventually very well hauled down by McIntyre literally inches from the Hemel line after going nearly 80m. From the play-the-ball John Richardson picked the ball and casually touched down with the defence all over the place. Again there was no conversion but Bramley were now level with 4 minutes of the re-start! For the next 15 minutes defences were on top as both teams probed for an opening. On 60 minutes Dan Lavery was harshly penalised, however instead of taking the easy 2 points on offer, Hemel kicked for touch and backed themselves for a try. This proved a good option as huge prop Compton-Meyer bulldozed over the line from close range to restore Hemel’s advantage, Swindells converted. At 20-14 with a quarter of the game left it was Hemel’s game to win, however as so often has happened in the past, despite being a man down the Buffaloes drew on their know-how, resilience and superior fitness and stepped up a gear to take the game to Hemel and ultimately, away from them. On the back of a more favourably penalty count, Bramley applied good pressure to the Hemel Line, Jimmy Waddington was twice just held up short before G-Man, Graham Harrison went over from dummy half close to the line, Williams converted to draw the teams level again on 65 minutes. Sensing their opponents were tiring Bramley came again and this time it was hooker Richard Hulme who crashed over from close range after coming onto an excellent flat pass, 20-26 and the Buffaloes hit the front on 70 minutes. Throughout the second half the Buffaloes team tackled manfully, to a man, however in attack John Elliker, Richard Hulme, G-Man and Tony Williams were causing problems for Hemel. It was therefore fitting that on 74 minutes Tony Williams should collect his own little chip kick and scoot over for the team’s fifth try of the second half, but only after first colliding with the padding around the post first. Hemel attacked for the remaining six minutes, but the Buffaloes defence held firm to record a hard earned three points.
Hemel Stags should once again prove a difficult side to beat at home on this showing. They have flair and size and if they get a ‘roll-on’ could rack up points quickly. Bramley were undone in the first half as a result of reacting to the Hemel tactics, which to be fair worked a treat. However once Buttsy and Jim Shuttleworth got into the team at half-time , despite being a player down they showed many of the qualities that make a champion side. Prepare for another rollercoaster ride!
Game star: For me it was Graham Harrison, he proved a calming influence in the second half, made some great runs from dummy half and grabbed a vital try as well.
Game breaker: Tony Williams 74th minute try took Bramley into a 12 point lead and with the resilience the team had showed they were never going to squander that size of lead.
Hemel Stags: 1. Barry John Swindells, 2. Ashley Fryson, 3. Jamie Acton, 4. Oli O’Mara, 5. Stuart McIntyre, 6. Blake Kirby, 7. Robbie Witt, 8. Jo Compton-Meyer, 9. Gareth Swindells, 10. Jamie Goss, 11. Matt Mizzi, 12. Aaron Hall, 13. Chris Woods, Subs: 14. George Stevens, 15. Sean Johnson, 16. Ben Joyce, 17. Tim Stevens.
Tries: Witt (5), Fryson (18), Compton-Meyer (61)
Goals: BJ Swindells 4/4
Bramley Buffaloes: 1. Nicky Fontaine, 2. John Richardson, 3. Matt Mullholland, 4. Matthew Booth, 5. Jimmy Waddington, 6. Paul Drake, 7. Tony Williams, 8. Dan Lavery, 9. Richard Hulme, 10. Richard Leese, 11. Simon Speight, 12. John Elliker, 13. Jon Nicholls, Subs: 14. Craig Green, 15. Dan Caston, 16. Graham Harrison, 17. Dave Parker.
Tries: Fontaine (16), Richardson (42 & 44), Harrison (65), Hulme (70), Williams (74)
Goals: Drake 1/1, Williams 3/5
Final score: 20-32
Penalty Count: 16(10) – 13(4)
Man of the Match:
Hemel Stags: Oli O’Mara
Bramley Buffaloes: Richard Hulme