Harps clinch win in hard-fought derby

Ollie Mann bagged one try and kicked nine more points as Harpenden beat Hemel Hempstead. Picture: KA

Ollie Mann bagged one try and kicked nine more points as Harpenden beat Hemel Hempstead. Picture: KARYN HADDON - Credit: Archant

A superb battling performance by Harpenden ensured they emerged with a 29-24 win away to Hemel Hempstead in a full-blooded local derby to maintain their slim leadership of London Two North West.

With their backs to the wall for most the second half, they were forced to spend long periods fighting off a series of attacks as their hosts threw everything they had at them in a desperate attempt to snatch a win.

And although their line was breached twice towards the end, Harps’ determination not to be beaten ensured it was they who walked off with the five points – and at the end of the season it may well be that they will look back at this match as the defining performance.

Harps made a bright start with Alex Randall scoring under the posts on five minutes.

And although Hemel hit back with a Jamie Hearn penalty on 13 minutes, Harps extended their lead on seven minutes later when Oli Lacey was driven over the line from a rolling maul.

As with the first try, Ollie Mann kicked the extra points.

Hemel hit back with a Hearn try and a conversion but, five minutes before half-time, Mann intercepted a pass and raced 45 yards to touch down under the posts before converting for a 21-10 interval lead.

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Ossie Dimen burrowed over for a crucial bonus-point try two minutes after the restart but Harps soon found themselves under intense pressure as Hemel ruthlessly exploited the pronounced slope and increasingly muddy conditions.

They managed to successfully fend off numerous attacks before Hemel were eventually rewarded with a try from Garry Jahn with 13 minutes to go, converted by Hearn.

Mann’s penalty relieved some of the pressure but Hemel got to within one score with another converted try, this time scored by Aled Gamble.

But with Hemel pressing, Harpenden were able to claw back possession, and with it a memorable victory.

Skipper Lacey said: “Hemel gave us a real battle in what was a proper local derby. Such were the conditions that we could not play our usual running game and we were forced to defend for long periods.

“I think that the fact we were able to come away with a win may well prove to be a turning point in our season.”