Harpenden march on despite stiff Tabard resistance

Harpenden continued their fine start to the season with a bonus point win at bottom club Tabard, which lifted them to fourth place in London 2NW.

Their performance, though, was something of a curate’s egg: periods of scintillating attacking play leavened too often by a failure to choose the right options and simple errors which almost allowed their hosts to snatch an unlikely victory in the dying minutes.

With new league leaders Staines the visitors to Redbourn Lane on Saturday, they know they will have to move up at least a couple of gears if they are to record their sixth victory of the campaign.

Skipper Michael Goode gave an honest assessment of Harps’ performance on the final whistle.

“We are learning all the time and are definitely getting better,” he said.

“We did some things very well today, but we are still making simple mistakes and not playing with our heads on our shoulders. One thing we have to learn is to close out games when we are on top, although credit must be given to Tabard who battled really hard.”

Harps could hardly have had a better start, finding themselves two tries up after only five minutes. Right wing Adam Stirling went over within just three minutes after a great break by scrum-half Adam Wilkinson. Then, after being fed by Goode following a powerful run, Stirling struck again two minutes later to score a sensational try, breaking two tackles in the process. Aaron Wilde converted the second to take the score to 12-0.

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However, Tabard had not read Harps’ script and got a try back when winger Rhys Lewis went over in the right corner on 14 minutes. Scrum-half Harry Gough added two further points with a successful conversion.

But Harps restored the points difference on 22 minutes, thanks to a beautiful try by 17-year-old fly-half Harry Hutchins, who was making his league debut. The Saracens Academy member and son of ex-club captain Willie, who was watching from the touchline, began the move with a lovely break before offloading to centre Tom Stagg who returned the pass to enable him to score under the posts. Wilde duly converted.

Tabard, though, began to belie their league basement status with a strong fight-back. In former Saracens back Gerald Arasa they possessed a potent attacking weapon, and almost on the stroke of half-time they reduced the arrears to 19-10 with a Jack Riley penalty.

Harps moved further ahead again 10 minutes after the break when Stirling notched up his hat-trick and, in doing so, a winning bonus point for his side. Running on to a beautifully timed inside pass from Hutchins, he touched down under the posts. Wilde again added the ‘extras’ to extend the lead to 26-10.

At this point Harps really should have put the game beyond Tabard’s reach, but too often they failed to make the right decision with the ball in hand, and on 58 minutes the dangerous Arasa swooped for a richly deserved try, which Riley converted to narrow the gap to 26-17.

Another successful Riley penalty attempt on 70 minutes gave Tabard even greater hope of snatching a victory that had looked out totally of the question an hour earlier, but Harps were able to steady the ship and hold on for victory.