With few games remaining and a race at the top between the three leading players, this was bound to be an interesting encounter. Unlike the previous week, the elements did not hold sway and, though the pitch was damp in places, at least the East Beast had decided to go and annoy another set of punters which averted the potential disaster of the management having to commission another set of fur-lined member-protectors.
The omens were looking good with a strong pack in force, the one exception being prop Aaron Ledwidge who, unfortunately, appears to be unavailable for the remainder of the season due to an injury incurred in the match against Hackney the previous Saturday. George Rolfe and Sean Mcloughlin more than made up for Aaron’s absence and must have impressed the overhead drone that was hovering above all afternoon.
There was no doubt who was going to get the plaudits this week, not just because he had a perfect game but because he has come back into the side after a short break and made his mark once again. When you score 5 tries from fullback or, as was the case this week centre, it doesn’t matter because five tries are five tries in anyone’s currency.
Naturally, it wasn’t just down to Luke Barber but he certainly played his part. He was the first to understand that the base from which these scores came originated from a feisty pack that turned on the gas this week. Add to that a free-running back line and you have an unstoppable force that was reflected in the half-time score of 38-5. Tries came from Barber and Jack Pennell (two each), Nick Childs and Ed Preston. At this stage, Harpenden were running so successfully that the referee must have found it difficult keeping up with play. But, keep up he did.
Six tries and four conversions up at the break in response to LN’s one from Joe McDonald looked like the hundred would be reached before the match ended, but slack tackling and nifty footwork saw Harpenden’s defensive record briefly threatened. As it turned out, Harpenden continue to have, by far, the best points difference (559) in this league being at least 100 more than their two main rivals and even greater when compared to the other sides in the league.
Watching from the sidelines were centres Bobby Tane and Jimmy Speirs; the latter must have been impressed with the team that he coaches, in particular the backs. And, Senior coach, Matt Davies, looked content as his pack of forwards continued to blitz the visitors with relish.
Following the break, Barber got three more good scores; Childs one more; and, Fred Gulliford and Matt Wells one apiece. Ollie Mann, reliable as ever, managed to convert 10 which gave him more than an 80 per cent return. Never giving up, London Nigerians fought back with three more of their own from Joe MacDonald; captain Charlie Esberger and George Froud and until Harpenden woke up from what looked like a sleepy period it allowed the visitors to reach their bonus-point target. Towards the end there was a bit of niggle which fortunately blew away fairly quickly, so at the whistle Harpenden came off feeling it was a job well done.
Captain Oli Lacey now has the job to fire up his troops for the next league game, at lowly placed Harrow on 7 April, in order to set up a vital fixture on 14 April, when Harpenden ‘s visitors are second-placed Hampstead. Good luck.
Prior to kick-off, a short silence was held as home-team players lined the far side of the first-team pitch in memory of Belsize Park’s James Huxtable who was tragically killed when hit by a train on his way home from a match. James was a former player at the University of Bath and the Cornish club, Redruth.
Squad: Matt Wells Adam Wilkinson Luke Barber Nick Childs Jack Pennell Ollie Mann Fred Gulliford Sean McLoughlin Pete Sims George Rolfe Tom Rolfe Oli Lacey Ed Preston Tom Sanders Adam Wheatley Tristian Francis Alex Randall Michael Goode