In what has become one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the OAs’ season, this match was in doubt almost until the last minute due to the cold snap which has gripped the country in recent days. Thankfully and with thanks to London Irish, we were able to swap to their all-weather pitch from the frozen fields of Woolhams.
Despite it being a bit of a hike round the M25, the day was a beautiful one as the sun shone and without it a breath of wind, it made the low temperatures more than bearable. All it needed now was an encounter to warm the hearts of the crowd.
London Irish came to the fixture unbeaten and so far had put many an opposition to the sword so for OAs, also unbeaten, this was going to be a tough one. The honours over the last two seasons have been shared with little if any difference between the sides, a try here, a try there and a close match was expected once more.
With OAs just about at full strength and complemented by some experienced B team players on the bench having lost their home fixture, this was an ideal opportunity to have a proper warm-up prior to the Letchworth League match in two weeks’ time. The Irish pack looked a formidable unit and their back line has both speed and pace. OAs though also pack a punch of their own in the forwards and their back too, has power and pace – a perfect match up!
Right from the start. OAs looked bright and breezy and drove forward from the Irish kick off. Having got into their half, OAs managed to turn the ball over and win a lineout on the 22. A magnificent rolling maul ensued and Adam kept cool at the back of it to finish a real power move from the forwards. Tom L slotted a kick over from close to the touch line and OAs were 0-7 up inside three minutes. London Irish looked understandably shell shocked as indeed were the OAs parents used to the customary slow start.
From the kick OAs once again took control and this time from the ruck, quick ball got the back line going. Harvey made quick and hard yards across the pitch before a beautiful off-load sent Rukh away down the wing to go under the posts and with the Tom L conversion, it was 0-14.
London Irish smarting from this phenomenal start by OAs dug deep and used their powerful pack to get up field and secure a penalty offside. Keen to get on the score board, a good kick was duly slotted over 3-15.
OAs took the game once more to Irish and again having sucked the Irish forwards in on the left quick ball meant a gap had opened up on the right. Tom L’s kick cross field was superbly taken by Will R who dotted down in the corner 3-19.
Then OAs picked up the first yellow card of the game. With the Irish players determined to get back into the game, the ball broke quickly to the left and Will R attempting an intercept knocked on. Deemed to be deliberate, Will left the field and from the resulting penalty, Irish drove towards the corner. Another penalty for foul play led to the Ref calling both teams to order with reminders of the new rules. Irish drove once more to the line and this time scored 8-19.
Irish decided Will was a bit lonely in the bin and a high tackle led to their yellow card just before half time.
OAs used the HT talk to regroup and focus on how to make the most of their man advantage and to ensure they held on to their advantage.
The second half began at the same frenetic tempo as the first half with Irish clearly fired up and wanting to get back into the match. But despite making inroads into the OAs’ half, Rukh emerged on a run and a kick through resulted in Harry taking up the chase but with both Rukh and Harry taken down without the ball, Harvey latched on to Harry’s kick through to score under the posts. 8-24 plus Tom L 8-26.
London Irish now back at full strength hit back fast and hard. This they sucked OAs in on the right and with an overlap and a superb pass from their excellent full back meant they were back in it at 13-26.
OAs were in danger of letting a famous victory slip from their grasp as the Irish fullback created same for them to go over once more close to the posts but a missed conversion meant OAs still led by more than a converted try at 18-26.
It was only fitting that the last score of the match occurred in the fashion they did. Firstly, the OAs pack who had been magnificent throughout the game secured a penalty on the Irish 10 metre line and then from the kick to touch and resultant line out, once again scored through Adam at the back of the driving maul. Another tremendous conversion by Tom L restored OAs lead to what was hoped to be an unassailable one. 18-33.
But in one final twist, Adam as sent to the bin for a high tackle (not easy to believe I know!) and with 6 minutes left on the clock, Irish fancied their chances once more.
So what turned out to be the last try of the game fell to the Irish full back who had been outstanding and left five OAs players with ‘broken ankles’ as he jinked his way through some fair half-hearted tackles to go under the posts plus the conversion 25-33.
Two minutes left and another kick chase from Rukh led to a penalty when he was pulled down again without the ball. Tom L taking plenty of time had a punt at the posts but this time was unsuccessful and full time was called.
Another absorbing and fascinating game between two great rugby playing sides with OAs this time taking the honours.
Our thanks to London Irish for fitting us into their busy Sunday home schedule (made worse by the weather) and being excellent hosts. We look forward to returning the compliment next year.
OAs now gear themselves up for Letchworth in the League and could not have had a better preparation!