As Hampstead arrived at Woollams on Sunday 20th March there was a feeling of confidence and focus, as the home side looked to sign off their league season with the performance and result they have worked for.
The most competitive selection of the season meant that the team had all of its weapons available and ready to fire and one of those in particular used the first half to lay a marker. Outside centre Claire Mckenna personified this drive, with a hat trick of long distance tries inside the first half, amassing well over 200 metres on her way.
The first two of her tries came from turnovers in defence, absorbing pressure from Hampstead who threw everything into multiple strikes on the OA’s defensive line. They had come to play rugby and refused to simply play tight like so many sides this year have.
Playing from a scrum, the Saints defence took them to width where they wanted to produce a turnover and good work from the sliding defenders to get there and work at the breakdown allowed the retreating forwards to kick start a Saints attack through great ball carrying. Some slightly indecisive play was then made definitive by fly half Katie Robertson who found Mckenna, using her pace to round the blindside cover and weave through the covering Hampstead defenders. Robertson converted, making it 7-0.
The second score came from a similar circumstance where the sliding defence attacked the wide ruck for the turnover, a feature of their play this season. This time it was Mckenna herself who swooped on the tackled player and stole possession on the Saints 22m, using footwork to beat all the defenders in attendance and searing pace to beat the cover again. With the conversion, the score quickly became 14-0.
The visitors were tenacious and this score only stirred them into action further, maintaining a territorial advantage over the Saints and showing slick handling skills.
OA’s had a lineout on their own 22 and after a quick tidy up from the middle catch, the backs were given a clean platform to play. Trusting themselves and their preparation, the backs and 2 spare forward runners launched a rehearsed attacking play that completely baffled the visiting defence. A runaround play between Robertson and captain Robyn King, using powerful forward carriers as hard line dummy runners before connecting with the outside backs in a confident move, saw Mckenna break the line and go 80m unchallenged for a try that wowed all in attendance.
This was the first game where the OA’s had a full compliment of 22 available and all players were needed during a hotly contested game. The second half was a prime example where Hampstead maintained a lot of pressure and the work rate in such a flowing game meant the bench had to come on and make an impact. This was not before Hampstead earned a well deserved score, using their backs to great effect and a strong running line saw their centre come crashing through. The motto of ‘next job’ has seen the Saints bounce back in many games this year and this was the strongest response yet with two scores to finish the game and make the score line firmly in the home side’s favour.
Some slightly lateral play in the midfield from OA’s was transformed when one of the subs Louisa Gilmore picked and sniped from a ruck, going against the grain of the defence to use her great evasion and acceleration to pick up a score from 30m out. This was quickly followed, after OA’s exited the subsequent kick off and put a chase on that stopped any counter attack. Repeated pressure in the next two phases forced a handling error and from 40m out new recruit Ciara Scott marked her impressive debut off of the bench to support and collect an offload to finalise the score as 31-5.
Back of the match was awarded to Claire Mckenna who’s stunning hat trick was the launch pad for this victory. On the day she added a searing edge to the attack that has been much needed but also made many important tackles, working hard to stay connected with her teammates so that the slide defence remained intact.
Forward of the match was given to Kate Barnes, a player that week on week amasses a great number of tackles and turnovers but of late has seen her link play as an open side, as a handler and a ball carrier. Her offensive tackling and abrasive style set the tone which contained an impressive Hampstead.
The Saints look forward to welcoming an Army side who will help to commemorate former player Georgie Robinson on Saturday 16th April. Be sure to come down for what will be a great day of rugby and social events at the club throughout the day and evening.