OA secure home advantage in play-offs

National Three, London and SE Old Albanian 47 Havant 10 LAST week s gutsy win at Dorking had already guaranteed The Woollams Men a play-off place worth promotion to National Two for the winners on April 17,  and the pre-match lunch, hosted by match sponso

National Three, London and SE

Old Albanian 47 Havant 10

LAST week's gutsy win at Dorking had already guaranteed The Woollams Men a play-off place worth promotion to National Two for the winners on April 17, and the pre-match lunch, hosted by match sponsors Vantis plc, buzzed with speculation as to where the final shoot out might take place.

OA's needed any sort of win over their Hampshire visitors to gain the points which would secure important home advantage.

Their comprehensive victory over a well organised Havant side which followed, not only served up the necessary result which will see their rivals have to make the long journey from Cheltenham to Fortress Woollams, but was accompanied with lashings of sumptuous, attacking rugby.

In another irresistible first half display OA's denied a useful Havant side any opportunity to express themselves, whilst running in five tries of their own, all converted by Richard Gregg.

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As well as slotting goal kicks from all over the park the mercurial Gregg tormented his markers with a series of body swerves and dummies for which the opposition had no answer.

James Shanahan lined up alongside at first receiver and finally free from a nagging hamstring injury, which had hampered him in his earlier appearances, the experienced ex-Cambridge centre began to display the qualities which have earned him such a distinguished reputation in the National leagues.

Together Gregg, Shanahan and Liebenberg orchestrated wave after wave of OAs' attacks making space for themselves to deliver the optimum speed and length of pass.

After a series of near misses by his backs, Shanahan opened the scoring with his debut try for The Woollams Men on 13 minutes after James Ellershaw had softened up his markers with the first in a series of bullocking charges.

Ellershaw shouldered the tight head duties in a previously untried front row partnership which featured Adam Gelman propping and Charlie Hughes as hooker, Aaron Tarwera being excused duty in order to rest a slight injury.

Terry Adams just missed collecting Gregg's delicate chip over the last line of defence but was on hand shortly afterwards to take the killer pass from Ross Hamilton after Gregg had shredded the defence with a mazy run.

Like his South African buddy Liebenberg, Chris Lombaard was also back in the side after a short break and he together with full-back Simon Lincoln played an active part in developing the attacks being set up by the playmakers in such rampant form around them.

Lombaard was once again on the score sheet with the next two tries to be scored, in the first instance capping a move kept live by Paul Gustard, his appetite for combat undiminished by a gash to his head, having been swiftly patched up.

Hamilton was prominent in the move leading up to the second of the brace timed on 36 minutes.

On both occasions Lombaard received his final pass some distance out with marker in position and was obliged to apply both strength and technique in finding the corner.

On the other wing Chris May who has been recording some great performances in an otherwise injury hit season was as committed as ever but struggled on this occasion to get to grips with a greasy ball and will be frustrated to have missed out on a couple of clear opportunities to add to his scoring tally.

Jamie Bache is another OA 'young gun' to have come of age this season and his duo of scores either side of the interval are a just reward for his positive work in the back row and when called upon for line out duties.

May set up his first try having received possession courtesy of a tap penalty taken by Liebenberg.

Bache's next success came just after the interval when he latched onto a fly hack ahead and beat the defence for speed.

By this time OA's had racked up 40 points and despite not having opened their own account, Havant had by no means thrown in the towel.

Graeme Frith at No.8 continued to be a thorn in home flesh and Jarryd Robinson continually threatened as he switched from one wing to the other in search of an opening.

Reward for their efforts came on the hour when Frith pouched a short pass, then made good ground before a clever offload allowed Dickie Duke to finish.

There followed a passage of play which almost denies logic!

Havant's line battled hard and succeeded in retaining possession for fully five minutes yet found themselves as a result 25 metres back from their starting point. OA's discipline and uncompromising speed off the defensive mark had stifled their opponent's ability to use the ball constructively.

Unable to break the gain line and fearful of kicking away possession to the home backs Havant ultimately ceded possession thus ending a fascinating passage of play.

Though the outcome of this game had already been settled, to the appreciation of the large crowd, and to the credit of the combatants' fitness there remained a competitive edge throughout the encounter.

With five minutes remaining Ellershaw produced a characteristic foray deep into enemy territory, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake and Simon Lincoln was on hand to dive over and convert his own try from point blank range.

Havant struck back in the last throes of a fine contest when a missed tackle allowed veteran scrum-half Grant Morris to feed Richard Stenhouse for a deserved score.

In the run up to what is being billed as the biggest game in the history of the club against Old Patesians at Woollams on April 17, OA have to fit in two games against local rivals Hertford.

Next Saturday, April 3, Hertford visit Woollams for a semi-final of the Herts Presidents Cup ko 3pm. The following week OA's travel to Hertford for their last league game.

OA: Lincoln, May, Adams, Shanahan, Lombaard, Gregg, Liebenberg, Gelman, Hughes, Ellershaw, Comb, Hamilton, Bache, Lye, Gustard. Reps: Hart, Alford, Evans.