Cents make themselves at home


St Albans Centurions Development Squad 36 Cambridge University RL 26

ST ALBANS Centurions put the final touches on their move to their new permanent home at Toulmin Drive with a magnificent fight back over Cambridge University RL on Saturday.

Cambridge were looking for friendly games prior to their Varsity match clash with Oxford University in March, and as St Albans are the current National Champions, they asked if they would be interested in accommodating them. The Cents had only taken possession of their new ground one week before the clash and St Albans City Council were very helpful in getting the ground marked up and ready for action.

To celebrate the move, head coach Shane Rampling produced a squad that represented all the parts of the club. In the 18-man squad he had six senior squad members, six development squad players and six players who are making the step up from last year’s juniors to the U18s.

Coach Rampling said: “I thought it would be a nice touch to give all of the groups a chance to play in the very first game at our new ground. It was a friendly, against a very good team, and whilst I hoped for a victory, and it being a great achievement, I knew it would be hard against a club of Cambridge’s calibre. I wanted this to be a celebration of the new venue and clubhouse, and helping out a fellow rugby league club.”

The game started and it was obvious that the mixture of St Albans players were going to take a while in settling down and getting used to each others play. At the five minute mark Cambridge put a classy loop around move together and scored a converted try. For most of the second half it was end-to-end play, Cents defending well but neither team managing to get any points, until another set move by the Cambridge boys saw them go in under the posts for another converted try. With 10 minutes to go Cents began to gel, and on five occasions Cents’ prop forwards Andy Lake and Roy Dube were either held up on the line or dragged back over it. It was up to Cents’ flying machine Oli Fountain to score the Centurions’ first try on their new pitch as he jinked past three defenders and went over the line, under the posts to score. David Kramer converted.

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Shortly after this score, the Cents backs put in a great move that saw one of last year’s junior players, Adam Sherwood-Pierce, cross the line, only to have the score chalked off for an alleged infringement in back play. In the last minutes of the half, Cambridge took the ball up field in two sets of six and got a converted try to give them an 18-6 half time lead.

At the start of the second half player coach Rampling put himself on the pitch and began to steer the team around the ground. Also starting the second half for the Cents was Aaron Brown. Gradually you could see the tide of play beginning to change in Cents’ favour as moves began to work, drives were going further and players were gaining confidence, and all this culminated with Rampling driving over the Cambridge line for another converted try to reduce the deficit to 18-12. At the kick off the ball went out on the full and Cambridge used the ensuing possession well to get yet another try to open up a 10 point lead. This did not phase the Cents, who began to throw the ball around, and backs Russ Kellaway and Daniel Hemsby began to make deep inroads into the Cambridge defence.

Brown crashed over the line with three opposition players trying to hold him up and Kramer again converted. By now Cents realised that this game could be won and Brown, playing his last game for Cents before leaving to ply his trade in France got his second converted try to put Cents 24-22 ahead. Cambridge came right back at them and after Cents gave away two penalties in a row Cambridge managed to go over in the corner.

In the last 15 minutes it was all St Albans as they crashed time and again into the tiring Cambridge defence. Brown got his hat-trick when he ran in from 20 yards to get another converted try to put Cents back in front.

The home side had been parked in the opposition half for most of the last quarter and in the last five minutes the confidence could almost be touched as Cents knew they had achieved a great victory. It was down to Brown, running in his fourth try, to seal the victory. The last kick of the game, the conversion, was given to Cents old boy Mark Edwards who is also playing his last game for the club before moving back to his home town of Widnes. Forward Edwards kicked the two points – the first time he has ever scored for the Cents – and the referee blew his whistle.

After the game Cents chairman Brian Parker said: “What a great result. Cambridge are one of the top student teams in the country, and to win them with a team made up of seniors and last year’s juniors is unbelievable. We seemed to be carrying on from last season when it takes us 20 minutes to settle down and start playing. We are all looking forward to springtime and the start of the new rugby season. We now have a great playing pitch and a great clubhouse. Things seem to be going very nicely for St Albans at the moment.”