Herts earn date at HQ

OAs provide the foundations for Herts’ victory

Bill Beaumont County Cup

Hertfordshire 53 Gloucestershire 8

A HAT-TRICK of tries from Old Albanians’ winger Chris May helped Hertfordshire book a place in the Bill Beaumont Cup Final in style.

On a sunny but breezy afternoon at Woollams, Hertfordshire dismantled a disorganised Gloucestershire side, scoring eight tries which enthralled a good crowd. Both Herts and Glos had beaten Cornwall and Kent, the other two county sides in their pool, with the winners of the clash earning a date at Twickenham to take on Lancashire, winners of the Northern pool, this Sunday.

There was no secret to how it was done. Herts were made up solely of Old Albanian and Hertford players with two from Tring and one from Letchworth making up the squad. By contrast, the visitors were still being introduced to each other on the coach back down the M40 as representatives from some nine clubs were still scratching their heads wondering what had happened.

Accordingly Herts’ half-backs, OAs’ duo Stef Liebenberg and James Shanahan, continued where Albanians left off in the league with a machine-gun spray of passes to hand from both set pieces and loose, a quick feed in the scrums and a well-rehearsed lineout take against bigger and bulkier opponents. By contrast, Glos enjoyed only one visit in anger to the Herts 22 in the first half, from which their only try was scored. When they had good ball, it was wasted at half-back.

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As a result, Glos players who represent clubs above the Herts sides in the leagues, playing currently for the likes of Birmingham Solihull, Cinderford and Newport Gwent Dragons, were rendered powerless to mount a response.

The main beneficiary of this was OAs’ May who scored a hat-trick of tries, one in the first half and two in the second while Man of the Match Shanahan helped himself to two cheeky tries as the Glos defence were otherwise engaged. Centre Chris Lombaard and prop Alex Brown completed OAs’ list of scorers with one apiece while Hertford enjoyed a brief moment of glory from speedy winger Ian Crompton.

Richard Gregg bagged one penalty and two conversions until he took a break under the rolling replacement facility, which allowed players to be substituted and return later to the field. In the heat and with the hard playing surface, this was a well-received relaxation of the venerable and normally immutable Laws.

The all-action play of Herts managed to mask the visitors’ shortcomings in the first half, which was an edgy affair ending at 15-8. But by that time, May had marked the card of Gloucestershire cover both with a try and a thrilling run which ended in Crompton going over in the corner. Making use of the wind, Gregg converted the first and then attempted a penalty from the halfway line which hit the posts.

If Glos were looking to rely on the wind to narrow that gap in the second half, they reckoned without a continuing absence of usable ball; time and again their loose play – so well-organised at club level – let them down and ball was turned over by the faster, lighter Herts forwards. Hertford’s back row pair of Rainbow and Corcoran ensured that, whilst OAs’ Lawrence White tackled everything that moved.

Long before the final whistle, the Glos supporters who had raised the normal Woollams attendance of 138 into the two hundreds were reaching for their car keys and a long drive home.

The Herts supporters, however, were willing their team on to stretch the score to fifty, which was achieved by Brown up in close support of an adventurous Gregg run.

Herts’ reward for their efforts is a clash with Lancashire, this Sunday at rugby headquarters, after England’s clash with the Barbarians. If the coaching team of Shanahan and Paul Turner can put the same side together and the contusions have all healed, there is a distinct chance of the silverware remaining in the Home Counties.

Herts: Gregg (OAs), Crompton (Hertford), Lombaard (OAs), Smart (Hertford), May (OAs), Shanahan (OAs), Liebenberg (OAs), Ellershaw (OAs), MacNamee (Hertford) �, Schillaci (Hertford), South (Hertford), Shotton (Tring), White (OAs), Rainbow (Hertford), Corcoran (Hertford). Reps (all used): Cope (OAs), Brown (OAs), A. MacDougall (Hertford), T. MacDougall (Hertford), Cooper-Millar (OAs), Newton (Tring), Tirrell (Letchworth).