North Wales Crusaders’ two-game winning streak came to an end as London Skolars scored a try and kicked a drop-goal in the last five minutes to clinch a dramatic 19-18 victory.
The home side have picked up some eye-catching results lately and currently sit joint-second in the League 1 table, but North Wales were the better side for the vast majority of the match and led for large period.
Once again, though, Crusaders’ game management at the back end of the game cost them.
If the Wrexham side had been a bit smarter late on in matches this season, they could well have picked up victories here, at Keighley and at home to Oldham.
When North Wales were given an early penalty in front of the posts, they opted to kick for goal and Ben Stead gave them a two-point advantage.
It didn’t take them long to build on the lead as Stead dinked a kick towards the right flank, Matt Reid collected to cut inside and Callum Hazzard was in support to finish off a nice team move.
As a close encounter was expected between these two sides, Crusaders stretched their lead to 10-0 when the referee blew up for another penalty, with Stead kicking the goal.
After shutting out a spell of London pressure, Anthony Murray’s men tagged on another two points as Stead made it four out of four with the boot.
North Wales looked as though they’d be heading into half-time 12-0 ahead, but they came up with an error deep in their own half and the Skolars took full advantage.
Straight from a scrum, they assaulted the left flank and fullback Joe Brown managed to cut inside to ground next to the sticks.
Although London looked more lively in the second-half, starting to throw the ball around a bit more, it was Crusaders who fashioned the first real chance following the restart.
Simon Atherton thought he’d crossed for a try down the right flank, hitting a good line to fend off a couple of tackles, but the referee ruled the effort out for a knock on.
In the next set of six, London drew level as they played expansively out of their own half, with a couple of offloads and nice runs setting Iliess Macani up for a try.
The response from Crusaders was a quick one, however, and a number of tip-on passes near the line put Lewis Fairhurst over, putting the visitors ahead once again.
Although the match was fairly nip-and-tuck and scrappy throughout, North Wales looked comfortable dealing with London pressure, but a couple of lapses in concentration proved key late on.
The hosts put a testing kick up to the right corner, Rob Massam couldn’t collect and Lamont Bryan profited to touch down, bringing the game to 18-18.
When London next pushed forward and got themselves into decent field position, Craig Mullen showed composure to slot over the drop-goal.
Crusaders tried a one-pointer of their own, but Fairhurst’s effort flew underneath the posts and the away side fell to a defeat they didn’t deserve.
1 Joe Brown
2 Iliess Macani
3 Omari Caro
4 Jacob Ogden
5 Lameck Juma
6 James Barran
7 Craig Mullen
8 Liam Scott
9 Neil Thorman
10 Maliki Lloyd-Jones
11 Jordan Williams
12 Rinaldo Palumbo
13 Mike Bishay
22 Jonathan Magrin
15 Matthew Ross
16 Robert Tuliatu
20 Lamont Bryan
Tries: Brown (40), Macani (57), Bryan (75)
Goals: Thorman (3/3)
1 Lewis Fairhurst
2 Dave Eccleston
3 Matt Reid
4 Earl Hurst
5 Rob Massam
6 Steve Roper
7 Ben Stead
8 Callum Hazzard
9 Karl Ashall
10 Warren Thompson
11 Alex Thompson
12 Simon Atherton
13 Kenny Baker
14 Kenny Hughes
16 Brad Brennan
17 Jonny Walker
18 Chris Worrall
Tries: Hazzard (9), Fairhurst (61)
Goals: Stead (5/5)
Referee: Tom Crashley
MOTM: Kenny Hughes – the hooker looked lively and provided Crusaders with plenty of go-forward.