HARPENDEN KEEP TITLE HOPES ALIVE SCORING FIVE TRIES IN THE PROCESS
Team Manager Rod Mcaulay was so excited at the result on Saturday that he was unable to find his notes of the game against Belsize Park after the weekend’s celebrations. Nothing to do with Harpenden but the fact that Ireland managed to beat their opponents in the Six Nations’ Championship and claim top-dog status. If anyone finds his line-judge’s flag lying somewhere around in Harpenden, Rod would be grateful for its return.
As to Harpenden’s game last Saturday, it appeared they rose to the occasion at just the right time. Five tries is five tries and was a reflection of their undoubted superiority. In particular, the pack that comprised two ex-captains, (Adam Wheatley and Michael Goode) who were effectively making comeback appearances, was a tonic. The pack played themselves to almost, but not quite, a standstill (although George sometimes looks as though he could have) and should have been credited as a unit with the accolade of ‘Men of the Match’. If the momentum is maintained, Harpenden should be in line for a chance in the play-offs as second-finisher.
It didn’t start like that, as for a while the predictable flat defence that Belsize often employ worked. They were also the first to score, on the left side of the pitch, far out. The conversion failed. Nevertheless, Harpenden proved to be the more resilient thanks to their forwards keeping their team in the game, thus enabling them to distribute enough ball to the backs who by the final whistle were looking so comfortable.
Having established a solid base from which to work, Harpenden were able to quickly bounce back, relax and enjoy a spell of running rugby combined with some tactical kicking to break out from what might have been a predictable game-plan. These tactics brought a much-welcomed variety to the match and slowly but surely began to turn the tables in Harpenden’s favour thanks, no doubt, to coach Matt Davies’ tactical acumen.
Having pushed Belsize back to their 22-metre line, in an attempt to stop the attack going further, Belsize’s captain, Will Ville, intercepted a pass with just the one hand and unfortunately was duly yellow carded. Even so, up until then Harpenden had been superior in the tight so it was a sensible decision for Harpenden to opt for a penalty scrum. The seven-man pack of Belsize performed what looked like an Irish Jig and turned tail. They conceded so much territory – more than the majority of scrums before that - it resulted in their going backwards quicker than the legal speed-limit and ultimately led to lock Tom Rolfe going over to level the scores at five all.
Belsize came back strongly, but Harps were equal to them and with former captain Wheatley, playing in only his second full first-team league game this season, showing his famed aggression, Harps scored again before the break, with Mann scoring and converting his own try, giving them a 12-5 lead at the break.
In the second half the Harpenden forwards carried on where they had left off and continued to dominate the scrums whilst the whole team was solid in defence. Tries came from wing Fred Gulliford and centre Nick Childs for Harps, then Belsize scored a second, before wing Tom Sweeney went over for the fifth and final Harpenden try (none of which was converted) that left the visitors with a victory of 27 points to 10 and sweet revenge for their league defeat earlier in the season.
Prop Sean McLoughlin who has suffered his fair share of injuries said afterwards that: “ We emotionally and physically destroyed this top team.” Team Manager, Rod Mcaulay, thought he had seen a few games where Harpenden have played ‘class-running’ rugby and won by big margins, but had never seen the physical commitment as demonstrated on Saturday. Loyal supporter, Irishman Dick Cogan, felt unable to comment: a plethora of his adjectives had been reserved to describe his country’s great victory against the French.
Harpenden’s next league game is on Saturday, 17 March kick-off 12.30 .
And Belsize Park are due to play leaders HAC very soon: “We are hoping they will do us a favour there”, said Rod. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have played as hard as we did – it may have helped the HAC cause!” But, the key game must be when HAC and second-placed Hampstead meet in a few weeks.
Squad: Sean McLoughlin Pete Sims Aaron Ledwidge Tom Rolfe Oli Lacey Adam Wheatley Ed Preston Alex Randall Callum Moyle Ollie Mann Tom Sweeney Fred Gulliford Nick Childs Adam Wilkinson Luke Barber Subs: Rob Owen Michael Goode George Rolfe