Hemel Stags began the 2015 season with a 34-0 defeat to Swinton Lions in an Ipro League 1 Cup encounter on a bitterly cold and wet Sunday afternoon.
After recent heavy rain in the area and a winter being used for rugby union, the pitch looked more suitable for growing vegetables than for flowing rugby league.
But as the old cliché goes, it was the same for both sides and the home team adapted to the conditions a lot better than the Stags.
For the first few sets neither side looked to be in charge – not surprising when you consider that the two clubs have never played each other before so knew little of their opposition.
Swinton did start the scoreboard ticking over after five minutes, though, as a clever chip through by Jimmy Rowlands found a gap in the Hemel line and the experienced Richie Hawkyard pounced on the bobbling ball. Chris Atkin missed the conversion.
Swinton were piling the pressure on the Stags defence and, when the hosts gained a repeat set for a Stags knock-on, hooker Andy Ackers managed to squirm over the line. This time Atkin got the extra two points and the home score reached double figures.
The final score of the half came on the half hour mark when Hawkyard went over in the left corner for his second try of the afternoon. An unsuccessful kick made the score Swinton 14 Hemel 0 at the break.
Any hopes of a Stags revival were dashed only three minutes into the second half. A penalty to Swinton for interference at the ruck saw the ball worked out to the far right where Shaun Robinson finished the move.
Fortunately for Hemel, Atkin was not on form with the boot and again missed the conversion.
Hemel put some good passes together and got close to going over on the right wing but play swung again in Swinton’s favour when they forced a goal line drop out and received a penalty for offside – the result being a try for Connor Dwyer under the sticks.
Man of the match Hawkyard got his hat-trick on 63 minutes following a Swinton hack through, and the final try went to Andy Ackers.
It was arguably the best try of the game with some quick, clean passing by the back line. Atkin made the final kick and the final score was 34-0.
A disappointed Hemel Stags coach Troy Perkins said: “We were second best in most areas today, but we will learn a lot from it and the players know we need to improve for the next game.
“We have a lot to work on this week.”
The Stags take on Oxford at on Sunday (2.30pm k/o) in the thirdrd Round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
They will be hoping that the open, flowing rugby that was so much in evidence in their pre-season games returns as they look to progress in the prestigious competition.