GALLERY: Taunton trounced at Woollams

National League 2 South

Old Albanians 51 Taunton 18

TAUNTON came up from Somerset having beaten last week’s league leaders, Jersey, and rising to fifth in the table.

By contrast OAs had endured three weeks of results ranging from indifferent to downright bad, leaving them eighth after earlier rising to the dizzy heights of fourth. After a scintillating contest on an afternoon made for running rugby, Taunton were dispatched back down the M5 with a 51 point bruising to nurse. For OAs this meant four win and one four-try bonus points which moved them from eighth to….eighth. A club has got to run very fast in this league to stand still.

The visitors certainly looked the part, although one or two of their preferred starters did not make the coach. Although physically dwarfed, OAs made up for a lack of stature with speed of movement and thought, which exposed their opponents’ slowness on the turn, and ran in seven tries to two. Taunton were also unlucky with injuries sustained during the match, particularly to the Martin brothers at Nos. 10 and 12; the replacements were unable to match their early fluidity in attack or covering strength.

Only six minutes had passed before Man of the Match, Chris Lombaard opened OAs’ account by gathering a charged-down clearance kick and sprinting for the line. Fly-half Richard Gregg failed with this conversion but slotted five good ones, two penalties and ran in a try for a personal tally of 21 points.

Taunton fought back with a penalty from their full-back, Gary Kingdom, nullified 10 minutes later by a Gregg three-pointer.

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Another Kingdom penalty was followed by Taunton’s best pressure of the game as five minutes later No.8, Greg Charlton scored a try from close range and who followed this success some minutes later with a yellow card. Gregg’s second penalty levelled the scores at 11-11, then after a sweeping upfield movement, Terry Adams broke free, made ground, stumbled twice but was able to feed on to winger Chris May who made no mistake.

To compound Taunton’s problems, OAs sealed a wonderful first half of exciting running rugby by claiming a third try on the cusp of half time with a penalty near the posts tapped on by Stefan Liebenberg, who dotted down for Gregg to convert to 23-11.

Apart from a second try for Charlton, restored to grace, it was all OAs in the second half as they helped themselves to four more tries. Lombaard again ran the Taunton defence ragged to score after only two minutes of the half. For his try, Gregg beat three defenders to score after a mazy run. Eventually all this pressure told on Taunton who also had scrum-half Waylon Gasson, yellow carded.

In amongst all this wizardry, what were the forwards up to? A reshaped front row gave Charlie Hughes his first start at loose head, with Wes Cope also starting for the first time at hooker. Both had outstanding games until substituted on 70 minutes, but the front row star was Tom Laws with some outstanding ground-making drives around the fringes to keep the Taunton back row tied in and relatively honest.

The OAs back row of Paul Gustard, Tom Powell and Jamie Bache all tackled the larger pack with much more commitment than was shown last week at Ealing. Gustard, particularly, was a thorn in the side of the whole Taunton fifteen. His pressure told as on 33 minutes he seized a turnover in midfield and charged some 30 metres unopposed until tackled, by which time May was on his shoulder to run in under the posts.

OAs final try was scored on the left wing with great presence of mind by Simon Lincoln as he received the ball and defender, twisted to avoid the touchline and simply wrong footed his tackler to allow a dash to touch down in the corner for 49 points. A difficult kick for Richard Gregg and a difficult one for the touch judges under the posts as the ball dipped, dived, wobbled and finally went over to raised flags.

As well as Hughes and Cope, Zac Vinnicombe also had a first start at No 10 for OAs and has not received a mention so far, simply because his service was so unselfish and his speed off the mark so effective that his colleagues grabbed all the try-scoring headlines from his skilful handling.

Finally, with seven tries, surely on OAs Golden Moment? Yes, step forward or more accurately, fall over, Tom Gillings. Apart from a monster contribution in the line and set pieces, the lock also excelled with a piece of play which got more applause than any of the tries. He backed up a sprint downfield, called for and accepted a pass, the pass arrived, Gillings slipped over, but in falling was able to get a hand to the ball and tap it on to a team mate running on his outside as he landed flat on his back. And all right in front of the pavilion.

Next week the OAs coach rolls down the M4 to Newbury, lying bottom of the league at present.

OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Lombaard, Lincoln, Vinnicombe, Liebenberg, Hughes, Cope, Laws, Gillings, Cooper-Millar, Powell, Bache, Gustard.

Reps: James, Cecere, Alford, Evans, Micans.

* There was not much rugby played in Hertfordshire on Saturday, mainly because of the three Autumn Internationals being played concurrently. OAs’ second team game was cancelled, but the third team strolled to a 36-0 win at Hitchin.

The Fourth team travelled up the A6 to Luton and in a tight contest beat Stockwood Park 14-10.