Celtic Crusaders were tested to the limit in their toughest match of the season against National League One side Rochdale Hornets, going out of the Powergen Challenge Cup after a 32-8 defeat.
The Crusaders were beaten but not disgraced and will go away from Spotlands with more pluses than minuses, having learned a lot about their opponents, who they will face again on April 23rd in the Northern Rail Cup at the Brewery Field.
The Crusaders showed throughout the match that their extremely high scores in their previous seven matches were no flukes. Although beaten for the first time, they consistently showed skilful touches throughout the game and much to the annoyance from the home crowd, Crusaders’ Michael Ryan was given the man of the match award.
Crusaders coach John Dixon said: “We’ve learned a lot more today than we probably have in the last five or six weeks. We tried really hard today and there were lots of parts of the contest when we played very well. I thought some of our tackling was wonderful but what we struggled with today was the intensity of the game, the fact that the Hornets stayed in the game and pressured us all the time and we fell away in small parts.”
Rochdale took a 2-0 lead in the tenth minute after the Crusaders gave away a penalty for offside in front of the posts. Mark McCully easily kicked the goal.
They increased their lead on 14 minutes, Tommy Goulden laying the ball off to Richard Varkulis who ran through to ground.
They made it 14-0 on 26 minutes. On the fifth tackle, Matt Sturm forced his way the line, despite the gallant attempts of the Crusaders’ defence. McCully converted both.
Crusaders created three excellent try scoring opportunities late in the first half. The first was a move involving Dean Fitzgerald and Lenny Woodard but Paul Morgan’s clean break to the line was pulled back after the referee judged that one of the passes was forward.
Then Jace Van Dijk placed a grubber kick into the goal area. Ryan Barton pressured but the ball was kicked into touch.
Crusaders continued to attack and got close again. After Van Dijk was stopped five metres from the line, Duggan’s pass from the resulting play was intercepted.
But Rochdale went in 20-0 up at half-time after Andrew Gorski pounced on a grubber kick and McCully kicked the tricky conversion. It could have been higher save for Dean Fitzgerald’s try saving tackle on Goulden in the final minute of the half.
The Crusaders’ efforts finally paid off in only the second minute of the second half. Following a scrum ten metres from the line, Michael Ryan slid in for their opening try. Ryan could have had another from kick-off but his 40-metre run was cut short five metres from the line.
However Ryan Benjafield broke through the Crusaders’ defence for a try under the sticks just five minutes later. McCully kicked the goal to put the score on 26-4.
Varkulis increased Rochdale’s lead on 56 minutes, forcing his way over the line despite the gallant efforts of Phil Cushion and Carle Ellis.
Crusaders weren’t finished yet. Damien Quinn was held up metres from the line and from the next play, Geraint Davies superbly set up a try for Tony Duggan.
The final score flattered Rochdale a little and expect the margin to be a lot closer when the two teams meet again in three weeks time in front of a partisan Welsh crowd.
Hornets: 1. Paul Owen, 2. Mark McCully, 3. Richard Varkulis, 4. Lee Patterson, 5. Chris Giles, 6. Phil Farrell, 7. Matt Firth, 8. Rob Ball, 9. David McConnell, 10. Matt Sturm, 11. Andrew Gorski, 12. Lee Doran, 13. Tommy Goulden. Subs: 14. Lee Sanderson, 15. Paul Anderson, 16. Craig Robinson, 17. Ryan Benjafield.
Tries: Varkulis (14, 56), Sturm (26), Gorski (36), Benjafield (46)
Goals: McCully 6/6
Crusaders: 1. Tony Duggan, 2. Carl de Chenu, 3. Lenny Woodard, 4. Damien Quinn, 5. Paul Morgan, 6. Luke Young, 7. Jace Van Dijk, 8. Ryan Barton, 9. Michael Ryan, 10. Phil Cushion, 11. Dean Scully, 12. David Simm, 13. Dean Fitzgerald. Subs: 14. Carle Ellis, 15. Geraint Davies, 16. Lloyd O’Connor, 17. Lee Williams.
Tries: Ryan (42), Duggan (69)
Goals: Quinn 0/2