Hartpury College teach OAs a lesson in control
OAs suffer one-point defeat
National League 2 South
Old Albanian 22
Hartpury College 23
IF Old Albanian director of rugby James Shanahan was using this tense and gripping match as a dress rehearsal for the potentially uncomfortable away game next week at league leaders Richmond, then a lot more homework is required.
This was a game OAs should have had wrapped up by half time – with or without a four-try bonus point – but they allowed circumstances and a wilful opposition to dictate.
It only took No.8 Andy Daish nine minutes to score the first try as he was driven over the line, picking up after a scrum on the Hartpury five metre line.
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OAs were winning lineout ball at will, thanks largely to good work by Daish and Ollie Cooper-Millar, were quicker to the breakdown and had rattled the visitors. All the rugby was being played in the College’s half and the scene was set fair for a stylish home win.
Hartpury, in one of their rare incursions into OAs’ half, then contrived a drive upfield the pace of which was too much for one player and spectators on the pavilion side witnessed a forward pass on the referee’s blindside. Undetected, the ball was fed out to flanker, Rob Langley, who strolled over to much disbelief.
OAs showed great strength of character to continue the hard work for another quarter of an hour until a penalty from Richard Gregg made the score 8-5. He also converted the next two tries, but by that time his opposition kicker, Tim Stevenson, was starting to make his presence felt.
Stevenson was OAs’ nemesis; tackles on him were missed, he proved more elusive than his size would suggest and his boot was put to very good use both for place kicks and punts out of hand to relieve pressure and set up attacking offensives.
In the 36th minute of the half a Shanahan run was halted on the College five metre mark and winger Ollie Marchon – who had looked impressive with every touch of the ball – finished off the movement with a try in the corner which Gregg improved.
But it was at this point that the wheels started to fall off. Chris May, who had kept his opposing winger honest, pulled up with a hip injury. An OA set scrum was wheeled and turned over to Hartpury on OAs’ 22 metre line and from the ensuing reset, OAs in their turn wheeled the scrum even further only for the referee to ignore this and allow the College scrum half to flick the ball up to Stevenson who set off in full steam for the posts.
Converting his own try at the psychological moment before half time allowed the opposition to swagger into the changing room only 15-12 down.
The post half-time horrors that had dogged certain OAs over the last four matches were at least shared around the team this time. It only took five minutes of the second half for the Shane Williams-like figure of Hartpury fly-half, Ian Clark, to accept a harmless-looking pass on OAs’ 30-metre mark and create a fast, mazy run to the corner.
This only reaped five points as Stevenson failed to convert, but he made amends four minutes later with a penalty kick to make the score 15-20 to the visitors. Further, he repeated the trick to stretch the lead to at least a converted try.
During this time, Hartpury had started to demonstrate their masterclass in control. The line-outs started to turn their way, allowing Stevenson to place relieving kicks wherever he chose, the OA tackling which could not up until then be described as copybook took a sharp turn for the worst. Barely noticeable in the first half, Hartpury started to launch attacks via No 12, Seb Rodwell, a man with the bodyweight of a dumper truck and just as difficult to stop.
Their only slip-up occurred just after the third quarter when OAs made a rare incursion into their 22 as Hartpury loose head prop, Rich Barrington, began to digest a yellow card and at a lineout from the ensuing penalty, the tireless Wes Cope threw short to Marco Cecere, who immediately returned the ball for Cope to scamper over for a try converted by Gregg.
This brought the score to a nail-biting 22-23. Just a glitch for Hartpury, who still had sufficient faith in their ability as Stevenson declined a penalty kick opportunity on OAs’ 20 metre line to go for touch instead. Richmond await next week.
OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Lombaard, Marchon, Shanahan, Evans, Hughes, Cope, Cecere, Comb �, Gillings, Bickle, Cooper-Millar, Daish.
Reps: Bailey, Ormesher, Jubb, Bruzulier, Spiers.