Under 14 A
Man of the match:
“[…] they rode many a clean joust clean through their adversaries’ shields, so that the dust began to rise from that plain as though the whole land were on fire. [But still they fought on]”
[ – Siegfried’s Murder, The Song of the Nibelungs, (adapted)]
Perfect conditions again at home greeted the punctual Hertford side for the much-anticipated league meeting for the OA’s A team. Had Sky Sports been covering this then Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” would have been belting out in the build-up. A couple of late arrivals allowed Rhys Barham a disguised sigh of relief in avoiding having to play at 13 and the game got underway.
The first 5 minutes showed us what to expect for the rest of the match – hard running, harder tackles and a fight from Hertford at every opportunity to turn the ball over. The first scrum of the day showed great technique and power from both sides too and again was something that would continue throughout. We were however solid on our own put-in but struggled to run it out of our own 22. Direct running from Seb Brindley at 12 proved fruitless and initial passes from our familiar 9/10 axis of Mylo Watson and Harry Pope were floaty and wayward, making the advancing blue wall of Hertford salivate at the loose style of play. Outside centre Fred Hunter’s safe hands helped us keep possession.
We’d not reached our wings before possession was turned and the offloading talents of the Hertford back-row culminated in a good working up the pitch and try in the corner. Conversion missed, trailing 5 – 0. (It was agreed at this point between the coaches and ref that all future conversions would be taken no wider than the 15m line to improve the kicker’s chances).
Restart and a good chase from the pack wasn’t enough to stop Hertford again working up the pitch. A bit of back and forth with sloppy lineouts and handling errors gifted OAs with more of the ball but we did little with it. Eventually a second score for Hertford was made out wide. Conversion missed, 10 – 0.
Heads were kept high and our restart resulted in a knock-on which gave us our first real commanding position of the half. Props Ragib and Tom baker proved to be immovable when their feet went back and hips dropped and Skeelsy at hooker won ball and kept his form while part-time fish James Coleman and debutant A-teamer Cameron ‘Crazy Horse’ Caldwell completed the tightest of tight fives. Clean ball gave Mylo and Popey the time to shift it out and George Dalton got his hands on the ball for the first time. No way through could be found and back across the pitch we went again only for a knock-on to end a good attacking phase where the pack ran with support to retain the ball.
Hertford’s first clearance kick was taken cleanly, in the ref’s view, by Charlie at full-back and returned well but we still struggled to make good gains into enemy territory. It took for us to be on the back-foot in our own 22 five minutes later for Seb to break the Hertford line with real gusto down the right wing. Hand-offs and bounces allowed him to pin his ears back and carry on for 60 metres to touch down and get us back in the game. Popey, right in front of the posts, brought us back into the game at 10 – 7.
This proved to be no flash in the pan. The second restart (the first not making 10m but was retaken) hoisted up high and wide and George Dalton took it in an incredibly unorthodox but successful fashion to see the raw winger replicating Seb’s run moments earlier. He stepped in to avoid touch and the locked-on full-back but was caught by the retreating midfield. Hooker Skeelsy’s neck took the weight of the scrum around this time and made way for Rhys Barham for the rest of the game. No more scores and while water was taken on board at the break, we agreed on a way to approach the second half.
Old Albanians 7 – 10 Hertford
Seb started us off with a nice, lofty kick-off which was knocked-on and gave us an attacking scrum halfway into their half. With only a 3-point game facing them, the OAs corralled themselves and a big shove got us on the front foot to start running hard into the Hertford defence. Ragib, No. 8 Wellsy and Seb continued to take the game to the County-townsmen but support was not quite close enough to deter the jackallers and counter-ruckers. A long clearance kick was allowed to bounce and the usually elusive Charlie didn’t find the space he’s used to, instead the very opposite. His defence today was much stronger than his attack which gave fewer options from the midfield. Marcus Devenport on the left-wing saw much more ball in the second half only for his opposite number to be wise to his exploits. Work-rate dropped at times and instances where had numbers behind the ball been present then half-chances could have been capitalised on, much like Hertford had done and were still to do.
Their game-plan was somewhat unchanged but was exactly as effective in the second half as it had been in the first; run hard, keep the ball out of contact and get the offload to the abundance of support runners on their shoulders. Fred and Rhys Barham continued to chop down the big runners while James Baxter at openside busied himself in the rucks. Seb and Ragib were the big hitters of the day, rattling the dominant visitors on several occasions each. Unfortunately, two more tries were run in following linebreaks in this fashion. Our defence was oftentimes doglegged and struggled to spread out to cover the blitz-like attack of their midfield and wingers. Neither were converted and their lead was extended to 20 – 7.
The depth of the Hertford squad was demonstrated with all the forwards willingly making themselves available for the ball and a good pick up and chip ‘n’ chase from Charlie was gathered by their full-back and returned with interest, dancing his way past Charlie and Wellsy and using the boot to get back down into our 22.
The final whistle loomed but OAs were not quite done. It came once again from Seb at inside-centre, taking the ball up and through the Hertford defence and careering on past the layered defence to get his and OAs’ second of the day. But the loudest cheer from the Woollams faithful was yet to come. A knock to his knee forced Popey to pass on conversion duties and the shock recipient of this mantle was scrum-half Mylo. He placed it, he ran at it like a steam train, he stuck that ball right over. The resounding cheer and rejuvenated battle-cry from the home-side looked like a great comeback was on the cards. An extra few minutes, perhaps, but we’ll never know, the final whistle went shortly after the restart.
Old Albanians 14 – 20 Hertford
MotM goes to our hole-punching 12 Seb Brindley. Made the difference in both defence and attack with his own inimitable brand of rugby.
Debrief with the boys was nothing but positive. They played against an aggressive and well-drilled side and only narrowly lost. We showed good composure to launch a comeback and I don’t think that Hertford ever thought the game was in the bag. Congratulations to Marcus and Crazy Horse making their A-team debuts; solid performances.
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