Under 14 A
Man of the match:
“If a man knows which harbour he seeks, any wind is the right wind”
[ – Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Younger]
The bare 15 had a light warm-up on a blustery day and our usual game plan of simple passing and close support was adjusted to include kicking with the wind for territory and into the wind to place pressure on the opposition back three. Plucky full-back Tom Fielden captained and kicked off as proceedings got underway, up the slope but with the wind.
It didn’t take long for the first handling error to come and the forwards got to puff their chests out. With regular hooker James Skeels unavailable, No. 8 James Wells stepped up for a new look front row, adding extra power which saw off the visiting pack in relative comfort (or discomfort, depending on how you were viewing the game). Across the morning they took at least five against the head allowing scrum half Mylo Watson to spin it out to the backs, who managed to re-align quicker than the Croxley Green outfit. The wind had grown in strength since the warm-up, making the ball wibble and wobble mid-air. Hands were tested and a few errors meant the backs didn’t play to their strengths.
Dominance at scrum time wasn’t the only area the OA forwards excelled. Back-rower Henry Catterfeld stopped a couple of line-breaking runners and future Jacamo model, tighthead Ragib Choudhury, completed numerous driving tackles to raise spirits. With ball in hand, Wellsy, Ragib and loosehead Harry Crawley went looking and made good gains while support was there in droves from the dynamic back five of Crazy Horse, James Coleman, Leo McGrigor, Rupert Moody and Henry. These guys couldn’t be faulted all game, rarely losing possession and competing like disgruntled honey badgers at the breakdown. A penalty got us inside the 22 from Tom Fielden’s boot and a well worked rolling maul was set and driven a few yards before being shored up and a sloppy retrieval eventually found its way out to a couple of attempts to get over the line before Ragib found a nice Ragib-shaped hole to touch down for the first score of the day. Impatient in waiting for the tee, Captain Tom stroked a drop-kick in front of the posts to make it 7 – 0. Nerves were steadied and the pack got the try they deserved.
Positive play continued with the backs getting more of the ball where playmakers Harry Pope and Fred Hunter at 10 and 12 respectively shifted it rapidly out to outside centre Louis Beale and wide-men Charlie Brunt and the birthday boy George Dalton, who couldn’t find their way through. But as these young men’s rugby brains are evolving, so is their game, and the kick-chase entered the fray, first with Popey to test the full-back and then a couple from Charlie, the second of which, when left with little other option, turned a nothing possession on the halfway line to forcing the returning defence into touch, deep in their half. Our game plan was now being realised.
Leo was forced off with a twisted ankle, giving way to Rhys Barham at blindside. More success at scrums for OAs led to more certainty that the outcome would favour us and Chess Valley played a more aggressive defensive game. But with more pressure came more coolness from Popey and Fred, whose hands released George Dalton to grab his first of the day. Conversion out wide, even with the wind, proved a bit too much for Tom this time. 12 – 0
Fred took the restart comfortably and looked to play the ball to his support runners which got us straight back into their half. More running in the tight off of Mylo got the defence back-tracking before a piece of play exemplified this team’s skillset, vision and outright audacity. Popey took a pass and after a couple of strides, opted for a crossfield kick. The enigmatic Tom charged through around two defenders to take a kind bounce to cross the line. A ballsy late call disallowed the try for offside. (A hushed murmuring of discontent carried across the pitch in the wind). But heads were kept and we played the half out.
Old Albanians 12 – 0 Chess Valley
The half was re-started long which gave us a scrum on the halfway. Further work from the front row got us working up the pitch and back in control of the game and we got comfortable in their 22 as the visitors failed to clear their lines time and again. A successful lineout and work around the fringes from the pack – often going blind when the open cried out to be traversed – and earlier work down the left from Tom, whose chip and chase was deemed dubiously to have been after his foot was in touch, displayed the lads’ confidence and eagerness to get involved.
An atypical early shove gave away a penalty which we were slow to react to. The lowland river dwellers were not, and they ran hard through the dog-legged defence to get themselves on the scoreboard and bag the conversion too. 12 – 7; no longer a cakewalk, we had ourselves game.
Rhys Barham was our second casualty with a knock to his leg, replaced for Will Powell, followed shortly after by Louis at 13 with a bump to the head, making way for Oscar de Jong. The changes did not impact o the team’s style of play and we kept on hunting for the win. Pressure from Chess Valley’s kicker to keep us in our 22, and the omnipresent threat of their 12 kept our back-line on their toes and the whole team having to set their guards, keep discipline at the breakdown and the offside. In turning possession from clumsy hands, we then made ground through open-side Rupert, Harry Crawley and lock James Coleman taking flat balls at pace – notable mention to Harry Crawley who had a flawless ball-carrying game and 100% success at retaining the ball post-tackle – made room for George Dalton to get his second of the match, giving us some real breathing space, just the one breath though, with Tom hooking his conversion wide. 17 – 7.
More of the same to follow with the wind not budging, our short pass game got us back down deep into their half and work from Ragib at their lineout to take out the receiver into touch got us possession. After a couple of phases, space opened up for the hungry Henry to burst through and grab our fourth (fifth) try of the day. Unconverted, 22 – 7.
One last hurrah played the game out with the boys displaying the simplicity of the game from a steady scrum, quick put-in and back out from Mylo then straight out through the hands, with each holding his line and drawing the man, to give Charlie room to move on the halfway, which he did, he Forrest Gump-ed it and sealed the already sealed victory. Tom nailed the conversion too.
This was our best whole-team performance of the season with very few missed tackles, great defensive positioning and every one of the team wanting their hands on the ball, always being effective at the breakdown and showcasing the rolling maul and kick-chase delightfully.
Old Albanians 29 – 7 Chess Valley
MotM goes to the OA Orchestra’s conductor, Fred Hunter, who kept his head and the team’s tempo with a pair of safe hands, beautifully timed and weighted passes which drew in defenders and made space for the wide men. Faced against Chess Valley’s main threat at 12, his defence gave him no way through and forced the dangerman wide. He also put in a massive hit which gave his team the impetus to drive on at the end. Well done Fred!
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