London 2NW 30 March 2019

Harps march forward into the play-offs

Harpenden 36 Hackney 17

Harpenden secured the London Two North West play-off spot with a bonus point win over relegation-threatened Hackney in their final game of the regular season. As so often in 2018-19, the victory was based on forward power with all their six tries coming from the pack who again dominated in the tight and loose. They will now play either Romford and Gidea Park or Stowmarket on 13 April for the right to play in London One North next season. The venue will be not be decided until the London Two North East season concludes this weekend.

With injuries badly affecting their three-quarters, Harps were forced to make a number of positional changes and to draft in two members of their Under-18 squad, Harry Ling and Henry Simcott, who both gave a good account of themselves. Playing in perfect conditions before a large crowd, Harps quickly took control of the game thanks to their dominant forwards and went ahead on eight minutes with a try from hooker Pete Sims which was converted by Simcott. Hackney hit back with a good try from right wing Yinks Busari ten minutes later before Harps number eight Adam Wheatley went over for a pushover try on 26 minutes. And just before the break Wheatley grabbed a second try which was converted by Will Hales to give them a 19-5 lead.

The second half began disastrously for Harps though with left wing Rory Saunders and outside centre Adam Wilkinson being yellow carded within minutes of each other for technical offences. Exploiting the numerical advantage, Hackney scored a try through Ollie Jenner. Although Sims then scored his second try of the day, the east Londoners quickly hit back with a try from their skipper Joe Askham to reduce the deficit to 24-12. Despite then losing Fred Gulliford, who had started at stand-off before switching to his usual position of scrum-half, with a wrist injury, Harps pack wrestled back control of the game to score two tries in the closing minutes through flanker Michael Goode, the second of which was converted by Hales.

After expressing his delight at the result, Harps captain Oli Lacey said: “This was a really tough game. There was a weight of expectation on us and we had to contend with a lot of injuries, although the young players who came in did really well. We were not at our best today, but we did what we had to do.”

Harpenden: Simcott, Saunders, Wilkinson, Childs, Pennell; Gulliford, Ling; McLoughlin, Sims, G Rolfe, T Rolfe, Lacey, Sanders, Goode, Wheatley. Replacements: Hales, Murphy, Phillips.

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