…OA Lions beat OA Sharks in the Cup Final, 2 more teams make semi finals, while other OA teams make strong showings
On a bright spring day at Barnet RFC, Old Albanian U10s once again led the way at the Hertfordshire County Festival. Entering 6 teams and over 65 players easily the largest showing of any club, OAs once again demonstrated the depth of rugby talent currently playing at Woollams, with the OA Lions winning the County Cup for the 4th year in succession, the OA Sharks unbeaten all day until facing the Lions in the Cup Final, the OA Chiefs and OA Wolfpack making the semi-finals of the Shield and Plate competitions; the OA Stormers stepping up a level in the Shield and making a strong showing; and the OA Cheetahs winning 4 games out of 6 in a Bowl competition full of A and B teams to finish 3rd.
With 6 A teams opting to play in the Shield competition this season, the Cup competition was a smaller, but very high quality 10 team event. The OA Lions came through a close encounter with the home side, winning 1-0, before going on to fairly comfortable wins against Hitchin, Hertford and Harpenden. The Sharks were the only B team entered in the Cup competition, but soon showed how they belong at this level with 2 wins and 2 draws against Tring, Letchworth, Hemel and Bishops Stortford taking them in to the semi-finals as pool winners.
With confidence running high, both the Lions and Sharks went into the Semi Finals with high expectations. The Lions saw off Bishops Stortford 4-0, while the Sharks pulled off their best result of the day to easily dispatch a very good Hitchin side that the Sharks have struggled to deal with in the past.
Just like the Saracens Allianz Cup festival back in February, it was the Lions versus the Sharks for the Cup again. For a while in the first half, the Sharks put the Lions under considerable pressure and forced some uncharacteristic mistakes; however as the match progressed the Lions were able to exploit the spaces out wide and use their pace to settle the game midway through the second half. A great performance by both teams, and while the Sharks will be disappointed, they shouldn’t forget the progression they have made this season and have outperformed every other team in the County except their training companions.
With many teams opting out of entering the Cup competition, the Shield now became a 16 team competition featuring 7 A teams, a very tough proposition for the OA Chiefs and Stormers.
The OA Chiefs got off to a great start beating Chess Valley 2-0 in the opening match. Next up was Hertford and the Chiefs scored early tries and ended the game 7-0 winners. The final group match was always going to be tough against a strong Bishop Stortford team, and the Chiefs dug deep to run out 2-1 winners and top their group.
The OA Stormers are a team composed of players who this time last season were playing C level rugby, so the Shield competition was always going to be a big step up for them. Not that you would have known this, as they started their day with their best result of their season by beating Hitchin 2-1 in a very attractive match. Next, the Stormers faced the unknown quantity of Old Grammarians As, a guest team invited from Middlesex. Sadly they came up just short, going down 2-1. If OGs were any unknown quantity, then the opposite can be said about our good friends at Harpenden, and facing their excellent B team needing a win was a tall order. The Stormers were chasing the game from the start with Harpenden opening up a 2-0 lead, however the Stormers played with great pride, and after 11 or 12 phases of play on the Harpenden line, they went over for a very popular consolation try. A great match, between 2 great clubs, excellently refereed and played in a positive spirit… rugby at its best.
After a significant delay, the Chiefs were drawn in the quarter finals against Old Grammarians. Picking up where they left off the Chiefs ran out 2-0 winners to set up a semi-final with our friends at Old Verulamians… it turned out to be a classic. After 2 half’s of very physical rugby the scores remained stubbornly at 0-0. So into extra time the Chiefs won the toss and selected to start, with OVs choosing to play downhill. After 7 minutes and some amazing defence on their own line the Chiefs were clinging on and the OVs could not get through the excellent defence. After several phases of play, featuring some particularly aggressive counter-rucking from the Chiefs, OVs were awarded a penalty on the Chiefs line, a decision which could have gone either way. OV used their size to finally break the deadlock after almost 20 minutes on play to win a place in the final, which they deservedly won. A tough break for the Chiefs, but they showed they can mix it with the strongest teams that most Hertfordshire clubs can provide, and will look to be playing regular A standard rugby in the following seasons.
The OA Wolfpack only came together as a group with a new coach in February and drawn in the Plate against 3 B teams, the target was on a positive performance rather than the results… the Wolfpack however would go on to deliver both. Starting with 1-1 draws against Tring and Fullerians, the Wolfpack suddenly burst into action with a 5-0 win against Welwyn that was full of positive attacking play and support running. A surprisingly comfortable 2-0 win versus Hemel, and suddenly the Wolfpack were in the semi-finals against against Old Grammarians Bs, a team which had brushed all other sides away in their pool. A poor start to the first half left the Wolfpack chasing the game, but they stuck to the open, passing game they had been working on in training, and playing up until the very final whistle they grabbed a late try to finish 2-4 against a good quality team who would go on to win the Plate final. A great day for the Wolfpack, surpassing everyone’s expectations
The OA Cheetahs featured a number of players who had never played a competitive festival before, including 2 players who only picked up a rugby ball in the last few weeks. Drawn in a 7 team round robin Bowl competition, the Cheetahs dispatched teams from Harpenden, Hertford, Chess Valley and Watford A; coming up short against good quality A and B teams from Tabbard and Watford. 4 wins out of 6, and a 3rd place finish is a great return, and with the fabulous team spirit they have, the Cheetahs now need to look upwards at the next level of competition as they continue to get stronger.
So a fantastic day for all the Old Albanian players, coaches and parents, superb performances once again, all played in a positive, sporting environment. Well done to all the other teams for also upholding the core values of our fantastic game, and showing that the strength of rugby in Hertfordshire is immense.
Major congratulations should also go to the festival committee at Barnet RFC for organising not only a fabulous day, but arranging for the the Spring Weather to arrive in its full glory.