Centurions survive second-half fright to record an opening day win
- Credit: Archant
St Albans Centurions U14 rugby league team got their 2016 season off to a great start with a 38-28 win against Oxford Cavaliers in the Five Counties League.
Last years London League Champions knew they would be up against a strong Oxford team that had begun training in January.
The Cavaliers put the pressure on Cents from the start and during the first 10 minutes of the match they had to absorb huge amounts of pressure whilst Cavaliers went through their sets-of-six, forcing the ball to be held up over the Cents line on more than one occasion.
It was stoic defence from the home team and Matt Cannon led the way with some superbly timed tackles.
Equally, a combined effort from Jack Liversidge and Tom Wilton ensured the visitors were stopped on two occasions from scoring. However, this intense forward pressure eventually resulted in the first try going to Cavaliers.
After regrouping, the St Albans team got their act together and through some strong link-up play between Isaak Nathan, Ryan Hill and Harry Dean they moved the ball nicely up the field to exploit the weakness on the left wing which eventually resulted in their first try and conversion of the game.
Slowly the game began to change and despite some strong and powerful runs from the Cavaliers, the strong tackling from St Albans players, including Gethin Wynne, Oliver Jeffery, Cannon and Dean, ensured their forwards made little progress.
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As a result, it wasn’t long before this sustained pressure forced a turnover and with strong forward runs from the Cents, they scored their second converted try with Harry Dean running around the Oxford defence to place the ball under the posts.
More pressure again from Cents, this time down the middle of the field, resulted in their third converted try.
Hamish Tinker with around 15 metres to go took the ball and ran through Cavalier’s grappling defence who could do little to prevent him scoring.
However, straight from the of kick-off a Cavaliers wing-back blitzed his was through, around and past Cents defenders who were still very much skew-whiff setting up their defence to score an unconverted try.
Towards the end of the first half, the home team were very much in control and ran in several more tries. With the half time score at 32-8, it looked like the St Albans boys were in control.
Keen to ensure that all players got a game, a number of changes were made within the Centurions line-up, including several players who were playing their first ever game of rugby league.
And this, coupled with a resurgent Cavaliers side saw a number of penalties for playing the ball incorrectly, ripping the ball in the tackle and being caught off-side going against the Cents, which meant that they gave field advantage back to Cavaliers, resulting in them conceding a string of successive tries.
Fortunately Centurions hooker, Barry Heath was key to ensuring St Albans’ stabilisation.
With sustained pressure and a growing number of penalties against his team, Heath ensured that his half-backs not only received ‘clean-ball’ but had time and space in which to use it. He also scooted effectively, gaining critical yards at key points.
Playing his first ever game of rugby league, Jeffery had been running hard and straight all game and it was a real shame that three-quarters of the way through the match he had to be substituted as a result of a blood injury and taken to hospital for treatment.
With around 10 minutes to go and the score at 32-28, the large crowd knew that the next score could be the match winner - and so it proved as St Albans’ man of the match Dean exploited the thinnest of gaps in the Cavaliers defence to storm his way down the field to score the final try of the game.
It was left to Wilton to close matters off with another successful conversion.
Cents head coach Craig Naylor said: “What a great game between two very good teams. Whilst its fair to say we dominated the first half, Oxford fought back in the second and it all came down to the last try of the match to decide the winners, a very exciting game.
“I have a large and very keen squad at St Albans. Most of the players play for different rugby union clubs during the winter months, but they come together in summer and play rugby league for St Albans Centurions.
“It’s back to the training ground next week, before our next game on the 16th April at Brentwood Eels.”