Henley can’t stop OAs’ seven match roll

OAs end 2011 on a high

National League 2 South

Henley Hawks 7 Old Albanians 17

OLD ALBANIANS went away to this match one point behind Henley in fifth place in the League and came home for the two week seasonal lay-off three points in front and in fourth position. As Hartpury College lost to Hertford, they fall to third place just two points ahead of OAs, who now have the League’s best points difference of 316. Better still OAs, unlike all of the three clubs above them, are unbeaten for seven matches dating back to the unforgettable failure against Southend on 29th October.

Henley, for their part, suffered an unexpected reverse away to Taunton last week; but, if the bookmakers were remotely interested, would have been strong favourites to stop the visitors’ run. Back on the September 10 they came to Woollams and pinched a 17-19 win in a match which OAs looked to have safely in the bag. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and in the near-zero afternoon temperatures OAs treated themselves to a tasty plate of meat.

Despite the unavailability of Bomber Lombaard, back in South Africa for the festive season, and at the last minute withdrawal of skipper Lawrence White with a calf problem the reshuffle failed to upset the spine of this OAs side which grows in confidence with every match. James Spiers ably took Lombaard’s role – and added some incisive runs of his own – whilst Rob Farenheim fitted seamlessly into White’s boots at No.7.

The order of the day was defence as Henley, like OAs, are a formidable attacking side. When the supporters realise that they have seen little of Farenheim, Ollie Cooper-Millar or the normally irrepressible Andrew Daish all afternoon, it is certain that a defensive battle royal has taken place. The penalty count overall of 11-4 in Henley’s favour (7-1 in the first half) gives some idea of the difficulty the home side posed. This, coupled with a committed and destructive tight forward display in the set piece would justify the bookies’ call.

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However, not everything went as planned. Jon Phillips in his second game at lock for the club ensured that OAs’ lineout ball was secure and, if he wasn’t pilfering Henley’s, he was making it difficult for their scrum half to deliver quick ball. The home side’s frequent visits to OAs’ twenty-two metre area all failed to turn near-intolerable pressure into points and Richard Gregg had a faultless afternoon – not his most productive but probably his most satisfying - as he bagged an all-important penalty kick from thirty-five metres and converted both OAs’ tries from wide out on the touchline.

A nervy start to the game saw passes from the base of the OAs’ scrum and ruck fly high and low as a result of the hosts’ defence which was always in OAs’ faces and forced No 10, and skipper, James Shanahan to kick ahead more often than he would have liked. This led after fourteen minutes to a handling error on the right wing which No 14, Christophe Bart ran in from thirty five metres. Henley’s fly half, James Comben, converted from the touchline.

Indeed for the first twenty five minutes the bookmakers were rubbing their hands as Henley used penalty decisions from OA technical errors to gain ground in their opponents half. The deadlock was broken when Shanahan kicked ahead and across the field for Gregg to end up in touch on Henley’s five-metre mark. Philips stole their lineout and from the resulting three quarter phases, winger Ollie Marchon ran twenty metres to score in the corner.

And so half time came at seven points all and the same pattern emerged in the second half until Comben opted to kick a penalty just inside OAs’ half and the ball dropped short. This proved to be the turning point in the match as OAs ran back the possession and put pressure on the hosts’ try line. Despite a penalty against Daish for breaking too early from a scrum, the pressure continued and a quarter of an hour into the half OAs were awarded the penalty which Gregg slotted and took the lead 7-10.

If Henley were unfortunate with their penalty kick, luck finally deserted them as they pounded their way back into OAs’ 22 metre area with a twelve minute all-action but no reward attack, which was finally cleared by OAs to touch but left their hooker, Ed Church, lying badly injured on the ground. A full quarter of an hour elapsed before he was stretchered away. Henley regrouped but on thirty four minutes a scrum on halfway allowed Terry Adams a brief chink of light and in full exocet mode he accelerated past two hapless defenders to score OAs’ second try in the corner.

Although OAs did not earn a bonus, this final score stretched Henley beyond thoughts of a losing bonus point and they took away nothing for any seasonal celebration. OAs with four points in the bag, however, will look to improve their position as they take on Lydney after the break on Saturday, January 7, at Woollams.

OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Spiers, Marchon, Shanahan, Bruzulier, Hughes, Cope, Cecere, Bickle, Philips, Cooper-Millar, Farenheim, Daish.

Reps: Bailey, Ross, Spurling, Evans, O’Keefe.