The Roughyeds’ 15-14 win at London Skolars wasn’t pretty . . . but for guts, determination and an iron will to overcome misfortune it took some beating.
The team would normally arrive for an away game about 90 minutes before kick-off to allow for routine preparation both inside the dressing room and out on the pitch.
This time, due to a coach breakdown, they didn’t arrive at the Skolars ground in north London until 2.30pm or thereabouts and even though referee Liam Staveley agreed to delay the kick-off from 3pm until 3.15pm the inevitable rush and shortage of time available to go through normal pre-match routines was a major obstacle which all concerned had to overcome.
The players were told to regard the first few minutes and the first few sets as part of what they would normally do in pre-game warm-up.
In the event their first set on receipt of the kick-off in their own in-goal area was a fantastic start that ended with Dave Hewitt drilling the ball into touch on the Skolars 10-metre line.
The way Roughyeds reacted to all this in what was their first game for three weeks, combined with the loss of Jack Spencer with a hip injury in the first half, never to return, was stirring stuff despite countless mistakes in possession and poor execution with ball in hand while attacking the Skolars line.
On top of all that, two of the four subs, Ed Smith and Jimmy Beckett, were in the side for the first time and they were faced by a big, athletic, strong and fast Skolars side that desperately needed the two points for play-off qualification purposes.
A lot was asked of the new boys, especially in view of Spencer’s early departure, and both came through with flying colours.
Smith did marvellously well considering it was his first game after two major reconstructions on the same knee, a two-year absence from the sport and extensive rehab of six months or more.
Not wishing to get too excited about his comeback game, he said: “I got a couple of knocks on the knee but I think I came through okay.
“I’ll be checking it out with the physio again on Tuesday, by which time I’ll know whether or not I’ve had any reaction.”
With no such problems to concern him, on-loan Beckett, a 20-year-old fresher, had a blinder at prop, constantly driving the ball strongly, making the hard yards and coming ever so close to scoring his first Oldham try with one enormous drive only to be held up over the Skolars line.
There were many imperfections in Oldham’s all-round performance, which will have to improve significantly in the ‘Awesome August’ home games against Newcastle and Doncaster, but Skolars are no easy-beats these days, especially at home, and there was no doubting Roughyeds deserved their triumph.
They led from minute 3 to minute 80 and although the sides were split by only one point at the finish, Dave Hewitt’s drop goal early in the second half gave Roughyeds a seven-point cushion which they defended until the game’s last minute.
During that time there were numerous occasions when, with better finishing, Oldham could and should have extended their lead but hopefully we can put that down to rustiness after a three-week lay-off and we can expect better in next Sunday’s big clash with second-placed Newcastle.
Both sides defended heroically, but well though the visitors stood up to the undoubted strength and power of the Skolars forwards, they slipped up twice wide out to allow home speed merchants IIiess Macani and Omari Caro to each go 80 or 90 metres after slipping one-on-one tackles.
Roughyeds were 12-0 up inside 17 minutes before, in the 23rd minute, full-back Macani scored a try out of the blue and against the run of play to bust open Oldham’s right flank and go the distance.
It wouldn’t happen again surely. But it did almost on the hooter, when Hewitt, not for the first time, used the last tackle to find a good touch close to the home try line.
This time centre Caro broke free up the short side from the scrum — punishing Oldham’s left flank in much the same way that Macani had bust open the right side — and went nearly the full length.
Neil Thorman’s angled goal cut the visitors’ lead to one point, but two tackles later it was all over over and Roughyeds were deservedly home and dry.
Individually, all 17 contributed significantly, some more than others.
Wingers Harry Aaronson and Lee Kershaw worked hard to make life easier for their forwards, but none did better in the outside backs than centre Cam Leeming, who finished strongly in the corner to score Oldham’s opening try in the third minute and then went from strength to strength.
Scrum-half Hewitt was the most influential player on the pitch, but don’t overlook the good work of his half-back partner Adam Brook, who was one of the busiest players on view.
In the pack we saw splendid front-row driving by Phil Joy, Scott Law and young Beckett, while Gareth Owen and Matty Wilkinson both had useful games at hooker in their different styles.
Danny Bridge and Danny Langtree are marked men in every game, Bridge having the better time in this one while ‘Langers’ had one of those frustrating afternoons when little went right for him.
The main man was Hewitt, who scored 11 of his side’s 15 points with a drop goal, two conversions, a long-range penalty and a 17th-minute try when he shaped to pass left but then cut back inside and just made it to the line thanks to his twinkle toes and nifty change of direction.
One was left with the lasting impression that both Hewitt and Brook could do worse than take on defences more often.
Not all defences will be as full of vigour and intensity as this one.
Oldham scorers: drop goal, Hewitt; goals, Hewitt 3/3; tries, Leeming, Hewitt.
Skolars: Macani; Agoro, Caro, Jennings, Yates; Wilkinson, Coleman; J Greenhalgh, Thorman, M Greenhalgh, Tuliatu, Williams, MBaraga. Subs: Davies, Ross, Scott, Bryan.
Oldham: Hawkyard; Aaronson, McComb, Leeming, Kershaw; Brook, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Spencer, Bridge, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Law, Wilkinson, Smith, Beckett.
Referee: Liam Staveley; Att: 355.