Celtic Crusaders failed to beat their Rochdale hoodoo as they went down 20-16 at Spotlands in the Carnegie Challenge Cup fourth round thanks to a last minute try by Eric Andrews. It was a win that Rochdale were very lucky to get as the Crusaders were controversially denied a winning try of their own with under three minutes to go.
The difference between the two divisions wasn’t noticeable at all as the Crusaders once again showed that they can more than adequately compete in a higher league. Their National League season starts on Easter weekend with an away game against London Skolars before entertaining Blackpool Panthers at the Brewery Field on Easter Monday and the Welsh side will be favourites to grab all six points from these clashes following their superb performance in Greater Manchester.
The Welsh side took the lead from their first attack. Gary Hulse dropped the ball inside his area from a Jace Van Dijk bomb and Craig Richards made no mistake in pouncing it to give the Crusaders the lead in under two minutes. Damien Quinn converted.
They extended their lead from their second attack. A fine set of passes led to Quinn, who was standing in at full-back for the injured Tony Duggan, diving over in the corner.
Quinn almost went from hero to villain as he knocked on from the kick-off but his blushes were spared after Hornets’ Dave McConnell did likewise from the resulting attack giving the Crusaders possession back. They almost scored a third from this but Van Dijk’s grubber into the goal area took an awkward bounce on the well worn pitch and shuttled too high for anyone to grab.
Rochdale struck back in the 18th minute when Paul Anderson set up Chris Giles to force his way over. Kevin King’s attempted conversion hit the post.
They pulled another try back ten minutes later after McConnell set up Lee Patterson who broke through down the right wing to score and put them just two points behind. King once again failed to add the extras, his kick sweeping wide of the left post.
But the Crusaders went into half-time with an eight-point lead. Quinn was close to scoring but was tackled centimetres short of the line. However his quick play-the-ball caught the Hornets napping and Phil Cushion went over unchallenged after being set up by Neil Budworth. Quinn kicked the easy extras.
Rochdale struck first in the second half in under five minutes. Tommy Goulden broke down the centre of the park and set up Hulse who ran in under the sticks. King converted.
There was no more scoring until the final minute as both team’s defences ruled – Gareth Dean and Dean Fitzgerald especially excelling in the Crusaders back-line.
Fitzgerald thought he’d scored with three minutes remaining after being set up by Van Dijk but the referee judged that he didn’t ground the ball.
And from the restart Rochdale ran in the winning try as Andrews sprinted half the length of the field to start the celebrations from the home fans.
A disappointed John Dixon said: “Sometimes the ball bounces one way, sometimes it goes the other way. Credit to Rochdale, right in the last minute they had enough zip and enough endeavour to score and congratulations to them.”
Rochdale Hornets: Chris Giles, Eric Andrews, Lee Patterson, Kevin King, Balu Fagborun, Simon Svabic, Gary Hulse, Simon Baldwin, David McConnell, Byron Smith, Paul Anderson, Mark Blanchard, Tommy Goulden. Subs: Phil Hasty, Craig Robinson, Andrew Gorski, Paul Norman.
Tries: Giles (18), Patterson (28), Hulse (44), Andrews (79)
Goals: King 2/4
Celtic Crusaders: Damien Quinn, Grant Epton, Rob Toshack, Mark Dalle Cort, Craig Richards, Luke Young, Jace Van Dijk, Josh Cale, Neil Budworth, Gareth Dean, Terry Martin, Dean Fitzgerald, Darren Mapp. Subs: Richard Johnston, Jamie I’Anson, Phil Cushion, Hywel Davies.
Tries: Richards (2), Quinn (6), Cushion (33)
Goals: Quinn 2/3