The last few matches have all been a prelude to this eagerly anticipated battle between the two unbeaten sides in League. OAs knew that anything less than their best would see the Letchworth galacticos run amok and destroy OAs’ chance of regaining the League title surrendered the previous season.
Both sides were almost at full strength and the question was always going to be who was going to step up to the mark and get their Club over the line. OAs had opted for a rest from mid-week training prior to the game and it was hoped the rest would reap dividends.
OAs were clearly pumped up for the encounter which they knew would be a struggle for early match dominance. With the forwards in sparkling form, it was hoped this could be turned into an early advantage and so it proved to be. After a degree of sparring (an apt metaphor given later events!) the pack secured a penalty which Tom L – whose kicking was of the highest order all morning – put the ball on the five metre line. From the line out, the pack rolled the maul and Adam in his bid to become OAs’ top try scorer, went over for the first try 5-0.
The game then became a series of feisty encounters in the middle of the park. Eddie put in tackle after tackle and it shows the spirit and determination of the team when Kieran was knocked back almost 10 feet by their rampant forward, only for him to get back to his feet and bring him down with the next tackle. Ryan and Sean carried, tackled and rucked frequently making a mess of Letchworth at the breakdown and everywhere there was some heavy duty action there was Matt, ensuring ball was secured and recycled. Tommy added good support coming off the bench and Hamish was an absolute beast all game!
The team has been told to take on field decisions and live with the consequences so with a penalty about 30 metres out in front of the posts, they opted for the points (coach not happy!). Tom L duly slotted it over as OAs continued to build a score. 8-0.
Then a moment of real team bonding when Letchworth’s enormous ball carrier charged at full pace at the OA pack of a penalty move. He was met with a number of OA forwards who then called ‘Hold’ such was the effort of the OA Pack that they almost lifted the player of the ground as they held him up to force the turnover.
The kicking game has been a curate’s egg in the last couple of weeks but this time, it was used to great effect and significant pressure was put on the Letchworth full back. Finally a chip over the top from Tom L and a favourable bounce meant Harvey could pounce and put down under the posts. 15-0.
This was beginning to look comfortable but therein lies danger particularly with a quality team like Letchworth. Quick ball from the line released probably their best player to find space with a switch move and a chasm opened up in the OAs’ line which he exploited to the full, scoring a great try 15-7. Against the run of play, Letchworth were back in the game and then things changed a little.
Almost at half time A tap penalty for Letchworth on halfway was fluffed and when the ball went astray to all intents and purposes, it was back in open play. OAs pounced on the player and loose ball and it all kicked off. Often these things are no more than glad rags and handbags but swinging of a Letchworth fist saw them permanently reduced to 14 men just before half time. Difficult for all concerned but sadly the referee had no choice.
Half time meant time for both sides to calm down and get back to playing the type of rugby both are renowned for. OAs knew that with a man advantage and the pleasure of playing on the OAs 1st XV pitch meant the gaps needed to be exploited. The talk at half time was about how well we had played and dominated our opponents in possession and field position but the absolute need to keep discipline and continue to win our personal match ups within the match.
One of keys to success in the first half had been the play of the Scrum Halves Tom W and Jenson who got the ball out quickly to Tom L who then proceeded to boss the back line and dictate play. Letchworth clearly wanted to make OAs work for their victory and continually hassled at the ruck and made it difficult for the Halves to break free.
However it was only a matter of time before the space yawned wide and Harry and Olli J found space on the left. Harry (“I’m going to kill him!” – Dad) instead of opting for the simple lay off for Olli decided to jink inside and ‘break’ six tackles before going in under the posts 22-7 with Tom L adding the extras.
Letchworth were now faced with an uphill battle and started to tire, OA s knew this was the time to go for the kill. Dominating almost every ruck and maul and overlaps appearing more and more frequently, it was time for the trademark Tom L and Will R try. Plenty of space formed on the right and Tom with a great kick found Will who cleverly went down on his side and to gather the ball which was bouncing horribly for the bonus point try. 27-7.
With OAs now running rampant, it was Charlie time. We know Charlie is a strong ball carrier but we didn’t know he could run that swiftly. Running the ball out from inside his own 22, he surged up field and when tackled, off-loaded to Will who was also brilliantly brought down. The chasing pack quickly re-cycled it and it broke left to Harvey. With a 3 on 1, Harvey backed himself and went over in the corner. 32-7, at the times the handling in this passage of play was simply mesmerising.
The remaining 5 minutes saw Letchworth desperate to restore some respectability to the score line but found an OAs’ defence and back line in no mood to let them even have a sniff. Ben got stuck in to them and defended nobly as he always does as did Olli as Letchworth’s attacks were frequently snuffed out.
The game ended with OAs once more turning the ball over and the victory was deserved to say the least and reminiscent of last year’s cup final – very few mistakes, very few handling errors – very much a team performance in which they all shone brightly (unlike the weather!).
Overall this was an almost perfect team performance against a physically larger team who are accustomed to dominating teams. The OA pack were able to win the collision battles frequently slowing down ball or turning over in both ruck and maul. Our scrum and line out were dominant with our rolling maul unstoppable legally. The back line stuck initially to their defensive responsibilities with no line breaks apart from one lapse. When their opposition started to sit back they ran with purpose and skill. Overall our game management was first class against a talented team that never gave up.
You could rightly argue that the sending off made a difference in this match but the truth is that Letchworth never got into the OA 22 with the exception of one breakaway try both before and after the dismissal.
OAs now take a well-deserved rest after their heroic efforts of the last three weeks. Cries of champions are way too premature and the cliché of taking each game as it comes springs readily to mind. Nevertheless with this victory, it is most definitely another step in the right direction.
Congratulations to our B Team also who reached the County Plate Final for a consecutive season by beating Chess Valley – A notable day all-round for OA Under 15 Rugby!!