Over 70 players across 7 teams from Old Albanian RFC Under 9’s competed at the Herts Contact Festival held at Harpenden RFC on Saturday, and won the County Cup, Plate and a share of the Shield competition.
Having enjoyed success in previous years at the County Tag festival (2011, 2012) all eyes were on OAs to see if they could continue success in the contact form of the game. With 43 teams entered in 4 different competitions, it was the stiffest test yet faced by these promising young players.
Anyone who has been to Harpenden RFC will tell you that the ground can be a bit heavy at the best of times… conditions on Saturday were hardly the best of times!! With some pitches resembling the Glastonbury festival on a Sunday afternoon, all teams needed vast stores of stamina in addition to skill and strength.
Lions win the County Cup; Sharks miss out of the final by the narrowest of margins
As a recognition of the size and depth of talent within the U9’s, OAs were rewarded with 2 teams entered in the Cup competition. Facing the top teams from the strongest clubs in the county and with only the winners from each of the 4 pools qualifying for the semi finals, there was simply no room for error from either team.
The Lions started against Welwyn, and got off to a good start, leading 2-0 up early on. The second half was more even and the game ended 3-1 to the Lions with some good running rugby from both teams. Full of confidence, the Lions were up for a big game against Tring, a previous finalist in this competition. Playing some beautiful flowing rugby built on top of a solid defence, the Lions ran out comfortable 5-0 winners. The final pool game was a maiden match against our St. Albans neighbours Old Verulamians, and after a close first half the Lions finished winners by 6-2.
The Sharks also came through a tough pool unbeaten with wins against Barnet, Hertford and Tabard
On as they say to the business end of the tournament and the semi-final fixtures had a familiar ring to them…! OA Sharks v Harpenden; OA Lions v Hemel Camelot
The Sharks played out the tightest of matches with local rivals Harpenden, who were desperate to finally put one over an OA team on home turf. The tightest of semi-finals was played out in a cauldron of noise from the home support, with both teams committing everything to the match. Alas, for the Sharks it wasn’t enough… a last minute try by the home team left no time for a reply. The ground erupted; clearly this meant a lot to our hosts!! To their credit, the boys took the defeat with great dignity; or at least as much dignity as a 9 year old can muster. The Sharks will be back, and they will want revenge.
So disappointment for the Sharks, but could the Lions get past the always excellent Hemel Camelot and into the final? In a replay of last year’s county festival final, the two teams played out possibly the game of the festival, and indeed the season so far. It was an unbelievably intense battle between two teams who both desperately wanted to win. Both defences were brilliant and this was reflected in the full-time score of 0-0. The drama continued as the ref and coaches met to decide if it should be a toss of a coin or extra time to determine the winners. Both set of players had no hesitation in telling their coaches that they wanted to play extra time!
As both sides were starting to feel the effect of a long day of rugby, the Lions finally managed to brake the watertight Hemel defence with a try from Jack from a set play from just inside their own half. No sooner was the try awarded, than Hemel hit back immediately from the restart to level the score at 1-1. And so it stayed until the final play of the game when after fantastic attacking from the Lions and heroic defending by Hemel on their line, the ball was spun wide to Charlie who cut back against the defence rounded the final defender and dived over in the corner to clinch a place in the final for OA’s. It was a brilliant display by both teams and a wonderful match between two teams, where neither deserved to be on the losing side.
So it came down to the final; OA Lions v Harpenden. After such a tense semi-final, it was always going to be difficult to raise the energy levels for one final encounter and the Lions found themselves 1-0 down at half-time, and Jack unable to play. Summoning up one final push the Lions rallied brilliantly in the second half and were deserved winners by 3-1. Charlie adding 2 more tries to his last gasp effort in the semis and Graydon finishing off an excellent move for the other try.
So the Lions win the County Cup for the third year in a row, but only by having to dig deeper than ever before. The hard work for next years County Cup starts now!!!
Chiefs share the County Shield, Stormers step up a level to take some notable scalps
With the County Cup focussed on the 16 strongest teams in the county, the Shield competition was not your typical ‘B’ festival… lots of ‘A’ teams from some big local clubs, and no matter how big the club is, every ‘A’ team has enough blisteringly fast players to undo the most disciplined of defences… this was going to be a tricky day.
The Chiefs started the day with a convincing 3 – nil victory over Bishops Stortford B’s, and next faced Chess Valley’s A team. A resounding 5-1 win suggested that playing A teams might not be as difficult as the Chiefs feared… more about Chess Valley later.
A 3 -1 victory against Hertford B’s, followed by a very one-sided 8-0 against Tring B’s placed the Chiefs in top position to go through, with Chess Valley grabbing 2nd place in the pool to qualify for the semi-final.
Seeded in the tougher half of the draw and with two A teams in their pool, the Stormers knew that they had a difficult day ahead of them. That said, a 6-5 win against Fullerians A team was a good way to get started, however conceding some soft tries in the 2nd half was an ominous sign which was confirmed in the next match when they lost 7-3 to an impressive looking Harpenden B side.
A gap in the schedule gave the Stormers some time to refocus on the task ahead against Cheshunt, the other ‘A’ team in the group. Leading 3-1 in the second half, a chance of grabbing the second place needed for a semi-final fixture looked possible, but alas a spirited comeback by Cheshunt lead to the match finishing 4-4, a result that would prove costly to both sides.
Going into the last match, the Stormers needed a win against a Datchworth team that had rolled over everybody up until that point; including the pool favourites Harpenden. They also had to hope that Harpenden would slip up against Fullerians. The Stormers held up their end of the deal by coming from 4-2 down at half-time to win 6-5, but unfortunately Harpenden came through their match to claim the second place in the pool. The Stormers should be very proud of their achievements.
The Chiefs now had a tough semi-final against Harpenden, knowing how much the Stormers had struggled against them in the pool stages. This was the moment that the Chiefs showed their their true quality, beating Harpenden 2-1 in the tie of the Shield tournament. They now looked forward to the final, assuming that they would be facing Datchworth… Rugby festivals are strange events, and always throw up a surprise or two, none more so that Chess Valley beating Datchworth comfortably in the other semi-final.
So the Chiefs versus Chess Valley, again. This time it was a very different affair with the Chiefs struggling to hold a lead against a re-invigorated Chess Valley team. Going into the final minute however, the Chiefs had a precious 1 try lead… Awarded a penalty 7 metres out from the Chiefs try line, Chess Valley lead one final desperate charge and with the final play crashed over to level the match. The final whistle blew, and with 2 teams utterly exhausted teams the coaches and Sasha, the Harpenden ref, shook hands and agreed that a draw was the right result. A fitting end to a great competition played in the best spirit of the game.
Wolfpack win the County Plate, Bulls play with great pride
The Wolfpack and the Bulls found themselves in a similar boat to the Chiefs and Stormers… a ‘C’ competition, full of dangerous ‘B’ teams, plus an ‘A’ team!
The Wolfpack started their pool against Hertford C, a good quality team who the Wolfpack have enjoyed some very close battles with in the past. The Wolfpack struggled to adapt both to the speed of the Hertford team and to deal with the conditions with numerous knock-ons and the ball falling loose in contact. With the score at 2-2 going into the last play of the match, Hertford swept the ball to the left wing and it seemed only a matter of time that the try line would be breached… Nobody had told James that though, and out of nowhere he emerged and a huge tackle went in, the ball fell loose. Ben flew in with a big tackle of his own on an unfortunate Hertford player who had picked up the loose ball, the final whistle blew and coach John could finally breath again. The significance of those tackles would become apparent later.
Next up was the tie that had been circled when the draw was made… OA Wolfpack vs Hemel Camelot B’s. Much like the Lions, the Wolfpack have had a number of close battles with Camelot in the past, although not always coming out as the winners!!! A fantastic battle ensued with the defences generally on top, but not at the expense of an entertaining, skilful match. The match finished at 3-3, the right result in a match played in a great spirit between players, coaches and fans alike. Another draw wouldn’t help the Wolfpack grabbing one of the 2 qualifying places however. Hemel had comfortably beaten Welwyn B 7-2, and Hertford had also beaten Welwyn although the score was not yet handed into the control tent. It became apparent that the Wolfpack needed a good win against Welwyn, and hope that the final pool match between Hemel and Hertford had a decisive result.
Showing great maturity, the Wolfpack focused on the part of the equation they could influence and ran out winners against Welwyn 5-0 with a good distribution of tries across the team. The Wolfpack seemed to be playing our way into the festival, surely there would be a decisive result in the other match?
The look on coach John’s face said it all…
Hemel 2 Hertford 2…
Wolfpack, Hemel, Hertford… played 3, won 1, drew 2. The significance of those last-ditch tackles against Hertford was now clearly apparent. A frantic reading of the festival rules showed that tries scored was the first criteria in the event of a dead heat, so that meant Hemel were through. Tries conceded were the next criteria, but what was the Hertford v Welwyn score? Where was the referee’s score sheet?!! Will coach John’s heart survive the day?!!
And then the result was found and was read over the walkie-talkie… Hertford 5 Welwyn 2. The Wolfpack and Hertford had scored the same number of tries, but the Wolfpack had conceded 2 fewer tries… the Wolfpack were through!!! (Note to Wolfpack: now you understand why Neal had you doing all that tackling practise!!).
Once again due to the seeding, the Bulls were fielding a number of players in their first season of rugby and had a tough draw that included Stevenage A’s. A 3-3 draw with Tring was a good start to the day and apart from a heavy defeat to Harpenden C, the Bulls were always in with a chance of victory with narrow defeats to Stevenage A and an unbeaten Hitchin B team.
Every festival has one moment of controversy, and as we entered the semi-final the Wolfpack were a part of it. Once it was clear that the Wolfpack had qualified, coach John was informed by the organisers that that our Semi-Final was against Harpenden C, and that we were behind schedule. After a quick word with the players, the match started and the Wolfpack raced into a 2-nil lead by half-time. The Wolfpack were getting the hang of this festival lark. An improved second-half performance by Harpenden in the second half made the final score a closer looking 3-2, but the Wolfpack were in the final!!!…
…and then it turned out that the Wolfpack had beaten the wrong team!!!
A mistake had somehow been made and that the Wolfpack were actually meant to play the semi-final against Hitchin B, the winners of the other pool.
With great credit to the coaching staff at Hemel rather than insisting that a very tired Wolfpack team should replay the correct semi-final through no fault of their own, they agreed that they would play Hitchin instead. The situation was doubly harsh on Hemel as they went down in the semi-final 3-2 to a late Hitchin try.
So on to the final… coach John looked on his last legs… but the players were remarkably calm and ready to go. A gripping final was played out, with Hitchin taking an early lead, but the Wolfpack coming back strong to take a 3-2 lead, scoring the try of the competition with the ball going through Charlie and Rhys’s hands, then offloaded out of consecutive tackles by John Joe and Charlie for Daniel to score in the corner. As the second half played out Tom S tackled himself to a standstill and Thomas G scored the final try despite juggling a wet, muddy ball like a bar of soap and catching it behind his back. When Matt, the excellent Harpenden referee, called final tackle with OAs on their own try line Iggy showed maturity beyond his years to carry the ball to the centre of the pitch to run down the clock and secure the ball, and with that the final whistle blew!!!
A day full of great rugby, with rarely more than a try to separate the teams and played in great spirit.
Cheetah rookies win twice in the County Bowl
This season OAs under 9’s have been fortunate to have a number of new joiners playing rugby for the first time in our Cheetahs team. With the introduction of contact this season the chances for the Cheetahs to have fair challenges against other team has been challenging, but the organisers at Harpenden organised a fantastic Bowl competition with 7 teams competing in a round robin league format.
The Cheetah’s first match was against Hertford. They were raring to go and some direct running saw them 4-0 up at half time. Hertford came back strongly in the second half, finding space on the wings to eventually win 5-4.
The next match was against a strong Tring side who quickly built a first half lead. The Cheetahs showed their determination by rallying strongly in the second half. Tring found themselves being closed down much more quickly, and the Cheetahs also scored a couple of tries thanks to effective support running and accurate passing. Although Tring ran out winners, the score was much closer than anyone would have predicted at half time.
The Cheetahs took this confidence into their next game against Chess Valley Blues. It was again a good game with both sides showing a lot of attacking intent and determination in defence. By now all of the players had slotted into their roles, from Oliver the midfield battering ram to Archie and Sonny’s arcing runs out on the wings. This game ended with the first win for the OA’s.
After this the Cheetahs faced a real challenge – three games in quick succession. The first two, against Harpenden and a second Hertford team, ended in defeat although the Cheetahs were competitive throughout. Hertford even changed their defensive system to cope with Oliver’s strong running and OA’s own defence was exemplified by the sight of Henry repeatedly bringing down the biggest players on the other side.
By the time of the final game, against a second Harpenden side, the team were feeling the effects of the non-stop rugby. Despite this they put in their best performance of the day in an extremely tight game. Harpenden played the more direct rugby. The Cheetahs were passing and offloading effectively. Both sides were working hard to tackle on or near the gain line. Momentum swung regularly, but by the time the final whistle blew the referee’s scorecard showed that the Cheetahs had won 3-2.
This was the Cheetahs’ first festival of the season. They can be proud of the way that they came together as a team, with everyone playing their part. They played some good rugby, particularly in attack, and really showed character to keep working hard through to the end.
Well done OAs!!!
As Head Coach, I have the pleasure of seeing the players all develop over the course of the season, and every season they never fail to meet and exceed every challenge we set them. The future of rugby at OAs is very exciting!!!
Well done Harpenden!!!!
Finally, a massive word of thanks to Harpenden RFC, especially Shirl Musselle and his team who organised a fantastic event in extremely challenging weather conditions. With 4,000 people visiting to watch 135 teams playing over the entire weekend, it goes to show that rugby in Hertfordshire is incredibly strong.
OAJRFC Under 9 Head Coach
Our Under 10’s completed a stunning weekend for Old Albanian JRFC. Well done to Paul and his team from everyone in Under 9’s!!!