Harps shock league leaders with last gasp victory

Harpenden 31 North Walsham 29

London 1N 16 Nov 2019

Harpenden brought off the shock of the season when they defeated runaway league leaders North Walsham with a try and conversion at the death. Trailing by five point and with time fast running out, it seemed to many that Harps were destined to tumble to a narrow defeat. But, as the referee again checked his watch, flanker Jimmy Speirs made a break and got the ball to wing Max Baggio, who sprinted away to level the scores at 29 all. This left full back Tom Sweeney with a difficult kick from wide on the right-hand side but, as everyone in the ground held their breath, the ball went straight between the posts to secure a sensational victory made even sweeter by a try bonus point.

In shattering the Norfolk men’s proud 100 per cent record, Harps move to sixth in London North One. Skipper Oli Lacey said: “I always believed the boys could do it, but we made things a lot more difficult for ourselves in the first half. They are a very good side and we had to be at our best to win. The unbelievable effort shown by the team demonstrates the great spirit in the club and the support from the side-lines really lifted the team.” Harps took an early lead when Sweeney slotted a long-range penalty between the posts. In fact, for the second week running he did not miss a kick, which ultimately proved decisive.

However, for the remainder of the first half, North Walsham had the upper hand, scoring three unconverted tries. The first was quite fortunate as the referee had indicated a penalty to Harpenden, but played advantage until Harpenden chipped the ball ahead only for it to go straight to the opposition full-back Daniel Smith, who avoided the chasing Harpenden players with strong, evasive running to touch down. The visitors’ dominance in this period was helped considerably by Harpenden giving away a series of penalties and their second try came from a push over following a number of penalties. The third try came from an overlap on the left with winger James Riley showing a good turn of speed to cross the line and give his side a 3-15 score-line at half-time.

Harps played with more control in the second half and were rewarded when tight-head prop Harvey Beaton made ground before slipping the ball to hooker Pete Sims who forced his way over the line. North Walsham hit back to restore their lead with another break down the left wing with open side flanker William Swart finding a gap to score under the posts. This time the try was converted. The scrums were fairly evenly matched, but Harpenden managed to get a nudge on in two five metre line scrums, one after the other, and from the second, Adam Wheatley, who had replaced Michael Goode at number eight, was able to break away and drive over the line.

However North Walsham hit back again down the left wing, drawing in the cover and giving outside centre Joe Milligan the opportunity to score under the posts, which was converted. Harps once again reduced the deficit when left wing Adam Wilkinson put in a strong run for a third try which when converted by Sweeney took the score to 24-29. And there it seemed likely to remain until Harps conjured a rabbit out of the hat in the closing moments.

Harpenden: Sweeney, Baggio, Deane, McLean, Wilkinson; Brown, Haddock; McLoughlin, Sims, Beaton, Preston, Lacey, Jillians, Speirs, Goode: Replacements: Campion, Hales, Wheatley.