On Saturday Harpenden started their new season with a fixture against local rivals Hemel Hempstead (aka Camelot.) Though not as physical as the recent All Blacks v South Africa match the excitement was there in just the same amount as the two sides fought their cause right up to the finish.
Unfortunately, during the process both teams suffered from indiscipline in what was not a dirty match, but saw Harpenden's Adam Wheatley collect a red card for technical offences whilst Camelot collected a couple of yellows. In fact, though the game was hard-fought throughout, it was a good sporting contest with neither side dominant for long. If anything, Hemel's forwards shaded it a bit with their extra weight being an advantage. Yet, Harpenden still managed to outscore the home team by three tries to one.
It was obvious at the finish that the visitors had left their kicking boots at home and a penalty miss in front of the posts summed up their day. Added to which, many passes went astray either by poor distribution or with over-ambitious attempts at finding the prospective receiver. The match went roughly along the following lines. Hemel scored first with a penalty through Jamie Hearn then went further ahead with a second before the visitors number 8, Michael Goode, scored a fine try with his arm at full-stretch to make the score at half-time 6pts to 5 in Hemel's favour. By then Wheatley had received the first of his two yellows.
At this stage it was starting to be evident that neither side was going to dominate the lineout. At the end of the game, these came to six takes apiece with the emphasis the referee placed on the strict interpretation of the lawbook leading to each team having against them a tally of 14 penalties, which in the circumstances was high and something the coaches will, no doubt, wish to investigate.
In the second half, after a delay caused by the Herts and Essex Air Ambulance looking for a place to land near the pitch - it was in aid of charity - Harpenden's Billy Sach scored his side's second try (the conversion missed) before Wheatley's rather harsh dismissal. This coincided with the absence of the two Hemel players each being given yellow cards in the 52nd and 56th minute (Hearn being one of the unlucky players) giving Harpenden an obvious advantage for a while. Hemel were leading 13-10 at this stage, a try courtesy of Jack Field (converted by Hearn.) Their joy was short-lived; from a quick tap, Harpenden's hooker, Pete Simms, started the move that gave wing Adam Wilkinson the chance to score his side's third, again not converted.
And so to the last quarter of an hour when HRFC were reduced to 14 men against the 15 from Hemel; the visitors only just managed to hang on a bit reminiscent of last year's match - leaving HRFC's President Peter Danby a very relieved man. As stated above, it was not quite New Zealand v South Africa standard but nerve-tingling nevertheless.
Harpenden's next match is against Letchworth at home kick-off 3:00pm.
Starters: SEAN MCLOUGHLIN, PETE SIMS, GEORGE ROLFE, ED PRESTON, OLI LACEY, ADAM WHEATLEY, GEORGE ATTFIELD, MICHAEL GOODE, FRED GULLIFORD, OLLIE MANN, JACK PENNELL, ADAM WILKINSON, NIC CHILDS, BILLY SACH, JACK HADDOCK.
Subs: MAX BAGGIO, JACK MURPHY, BEN CAMPION