IMAGE: All Golds celebrate with tryscorer Callum Merrett
ALL GOLDS 32 – 22 NORTH HERTS CRUSADERS
Chris Wilson at Pennine Way, Hemel Hempstead
Two tries in the last ten minutes from All Golds scrum half Callum Merrett saw the Golden Fern complete a sensational unbeaten season by winning the Harry Jepson Trophy in Hemel Hempstead.
With eight minutes remaining, Merrett ducked through from 30 metres out to break open a game that stood tantalisingly poised at 22-22 before scoring straight from a scrum 10 metres from the All Golds line to seal his side’s triumph
The game was a tremendous spectacle with North Herts Crusaders fully justifying their late inclusion following Hammersmith’s withdrawal and the All Golds were forced to show their defensive resolve throughout the game.
The Crusaders had been marginally the better side in the first period but the All Golds punished crucial mistakes to lead 18-10 at the break.
However the East Premier League champions turned that around after the break to lead 22-18 before the All Golds hit back with three scores in the last quarter.
The Crusaders settled the quicker of the two sides. Their halfbacks piloted their big men through the middle and the All Golds were forced on the defensive right from the off.
They held everything that was thrown at them until Ollie Adams crashed over after seven minutes of almost constant pressure.
Craig Jones missed the goal but the lead lasted just four minutes.
A needless penalty saw the All Golds march upfield and swift hands put Aedan Coleman over. Merrett was unable to convert and, with Merrett nursing a shoulder problem, Ash Lewis nudged over a penalty to edge the All Golds in front three minutes later.
A last tackle move saw Brandon Lamb crash through two tacklers to score, Michael Holden adding the goal to extend the All Golds’ lead to 12-4.
The All Golds were forced into a reshuffle after they lost prop Pat Crummay to an ankle injury and back came the Crusaders.
A fortunate ricochet from an All Golds defender gave them an extra set of tackles and Adams crashed over again. Jones this time added the extras to cut the lead to two points.
However right on half time, the All Golds agains exposed the Crusaders’ right side defence and Holden nipped in for a well-constructed score, adding the goal for good measure. This score came moments after Mitch Dent had a try disallowed for a forward pass as the All Golds finished the half in the ascendancy.
The second half began with both sides completing their sets and probing for the opening.
It came from an All Golds error. On the second tackle after the scrum was put down, Luke Blackman blasted through the All Golds line on halfway and resisted all attempts to stop him as he charged to the line to score.
Jones’ goal reduced the deficit to two points again and soon the Crusaders had their noses in front.
After the excellent Julian Kitson touched down Adams’ grubber into the in-goal only to see the referee disallow the score for obstruction, Josh Llewelyn was bundled into touch and the All Golds conceded a last tackle penalty.
They held out for the full set until Kitson slipped in at the corner. Jones nudged over the extras for a 22-18 lead.
The Crusaders were worthy leaders and another score would have gone some way to settling the contest but as they pressed for a score, a loose ball went to Coleman who set off down the pitch fending off the chasing defenders. He actually covered the last ten metres going backwards before he was finally brought to ground.
Jack Uren stepped up to dummy half and dived over the line to level the scores.
With 14 minutes to play, the game was well and truly in the melting pot with the Harry Jepson Trophy anybody’s.
As both sides pressed, errors became more common and it was the Crusaders who made the crucial one. A forward pass gave the All Golds respite and a scrum deep in their own half.
They worked the ball upfield and Merrett found the gap he’d been searching for all game to score.
The Crusaders desperately chased the game earning a repeat set but again an error on the All Golds line gave the Golden Fern a scrum from which Merrett sped through a massive hole in the line and away for a magnificent score.
Holden’s goal was the final nail in the Crusaders coffin as there was no time for them to mount another attack and get back into the game.
The final whistle signalled the end of a superb game. Both sides had enjoyed periods where they had looked likely winners but in the end, the All Golds had just enough firepower to prevail.
ALL GOLDS: Kieran Webb; Josh Llewelyn, Aedan Coleman, Sean Roberts, Tom Gaffney; Jack Uren, Callum Merrett; Mitch Dent, Luke Stephens, Patrick Crummay; Alasdair Anderson, Ash Lewis (Capt.); Dean Cooper; INTERCHANGE: Michael Holden, Joe Uren, Sam Hodge, Jordan Smith, Ryan Tanner, Josh Foster, Brandon Lamb.
Tries: Coleman (14), Lamb (25), Holden (38), Jack Uren (66), Merett (72, 78)
Goals: Merrett 0 from 1, Lewis 1 from 1, Holden 3 from 5
CRUSADERS: Jared Scott; Matthew Houlden, Ronan Halpenny, Bailey Burton, Julian Kitson; Craig Jones, Harry Cartwright; Ben Cullen, Ollie Adams, Oscar Robinson; Oli Turer, Sam Woodward; Glynn Hughes; INTERCHANGE: Ratab Khalid; Luke Blackman, Mike Gray, Simon Jarvis.
Tries: Adams (7, 32), Blackman (49), Kitson (54)
Goals: Jones 3 from 4
Man of the Match: Callum Merrett
Scoring sequence: 0-4, 4-4, 6-4, 12-4, 12-10, 18-10, (HT), 18-16, 18-22, 22-22, 26-22, 32-22, (FT)
Penalty Count: 6-10
Referee: Patrick Wilson