Cold comfort as OAs draw at Henley

OAs have to settle for a share of the spoils

National League 2 South

Henley Hawks 24 Old Albanians 24

ON a raw afternoon ventilated direct from the Arctic, Henley gained partial revenge for their 50-point drubbing at Woollams back in October by sharing four points with OAs in a draw. They earned a bonus point for scoring four tries against OAs’ three; however, OAs remain fourth in the League one point ahead of Southend who won yesterday.

OAs were rocked by the robust tackling of the Henley team – far removed from the cardboard cut-outs who attended their earlier defeat – and were harried into uncharacteristic handling errors as spills and turnovers abounded.

For spectators it made for enthralling action as both sides realised that standing still was not an option; hanging around for too long meant being felled by frostbite. Small wonder there were up to half a dozen red kites at any one time hovering and swooping over the pitch in search of carrion.

OAs took a tenuous lead half way through the first half by virtue of two Richard Gregg penalties. He kicked one more before half time, but thereafter his kicking boots froze solid as both he and fly-half, Ben Patston, failed to locate the posts. It took until the 27th minute for Henley to enter the OAs’ 22 metre area in anger and only another minute to score the first try in the corner from their No.8, Matt Payne. It went unconverted.

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In this period of the first half it seemed that the luxury of fielding the same starting XV twice in a row was paying dividends for OAs. It was only the last-ditch tackles that prevented Tesh Edwards, Terry Adams and Chris May running up a big score in this half alone. Jamie Bache, Andy Daish and skipper Lawrence White were everywhere, supporting, rucking and tackling as hard as the opposition.

And yet there were signs that all was not as smooth as in the wins against Canterbury and Dings Crusaders. Whilst not the exercise in herding cats like last week, the scrummage had its wobbles and lost one against the head, there were penalties for collapsing and some less than positive lineout work which provided fuel for Henley’s fire. Despite this OAs went in at half time leading 9-5.

All this was forgotten after the break as both sides ran at each other with increased vigour and first honours went to OAs after just four minutes as Terry Adams was on the receiving end of a smart flick pass from scrum-half, Stefan Liebenberg, and found space to score; Gregg’s kick hit the posts – a costly miss in retrospect. Five minutes later it was No.8, Andy Daish, who found himself on the end of a passing movement which crossed the field twice before his touchdown in the left hand corner.

All hopes that a positive, two-try burst would sink the opposition lay in tatters as Henley responded with tries from winger Tommy Haynes and centre Tom Allen, converted by fellow centre Danny Wells. Three minutes later OAs loose head prop, Tom Laws, found to his horror that he was on the wing, a passing movement following a further incursion by Daish was heading his way and all that lay between him and the line was 20 metres of open space. Defying all the conventions of the front row club, he scored with aplomb.

That took the score to 24-17 in OAs’ favour and there was little separating the sides until Henley’s fly-half, James Comben, not only scored after an uncharacteristic OAs defensive lapse but also converted for seven points, bringing the scores equal with 12 fraught minutes still to play. Then in the final minute, Henley pieced together a driving maul which looked to be heading straight for OAs’ line from 25 metres out until Tom Gillings made the supreme sacrifice of collapsing it – quite effectively as it happened - and for his pains and the consequent shoeing he received from the angry Henley forwards he was awarded the only yellow card of an otherwise well-tempered match.

With this retribution, of course, Henley were awarded a penalty which to the horror of the Henley crowd, Comben missed. Cue long whistle and four points shared.

OAs will hope to do better next Saturday in a rearranged fixture away to Westcombe Park, in the glorious setting of the Orpington bypass. This means that the faithful will have to wait until the following week (12th) for the home game against Lydney to see the new Woollams electronic scoreboard. It glows a lurid orange in the night sky, attended by cherubim and seraphim, and – its manufacturer promises – is accurate. This will mean a change from the previous, aesthetically pleasing but erratic board with such gems as ‘OA Rugby 94 pts Worthing -5 pts’ when Worthing were, in fact, winning by a street.

OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Lombaard, Edwards, Patston, Liebenberg, Laws, Cope, Brown, Comb, Gillings, White �, Bache, Daish. Reps: James, Hughes, Bickle, Evans, Lincoln.