OAs deepen Newbury’s blues

OAs run in seven unanswered second-half tries to dispatch Newbury

National League 2 South

Newbury Blues 7 Old Albanians 44

A VERY young Newbury side were ground down in the first half of this match and capitulated in the second to an OA side who grew in confidence and scored seven unanswered tries; as a result OAs move up from eighth to sixth in the table.

In a first half which plumbed the depths of dullness – seven scrums in the first 13 minutes bore witness to that – and only Newbury’s No 10 Lloyd Cole broke the torpor with an interception of a careless OA pass and fed Martin Freeman to score under the posts for their seven points made good by kicker, Will Clarke.

And apart from some hard graft in the line from Andy Cannock, and some annoying, unnoticed obstruction from prop Tom Fidler, that was Newbury’s afternoon. Fidler’s misdemeanours and a lot of offside were ignored by referee Phil Watters.

The home side brought the kick off forward to 1pm to attract England international watchers to their bar TV.

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“It all depends on the mindset”, sighed OAs head coach, James Shanahan, assessing before the match how his players were likely to face a similar situation to that when they beat Henley with a fifty-pointer only to travel subsequently to be outfoxed by Lydney. Ominously, last week, OAs put 50 points on Taunton at home.

This time, apart from stuttering early in the first half whilst their alarm clocks were still ringing in their ears, OAs patiently absorbed all their hosts had to throw at them without flinching and, with no more than a Richard Gregg penalty to show, went into half time only 7-3 adrift.

A buzz of anticipation reverberated around the Newbury faithful on the touchlines. Was this to be the end of a recent spate of heavy losses? Could Newbury record their first win of the season? Are the glory days on the way back? Their answer came with an OA half time substitution.

To their horror, an outbreak of James Ellershaw exploded on the pitch.

His catch and devastating 30 metre run from the restart left one unsuccessful tackler concussed as he carved up the field. And from that point, Newbury’s team went through their substitute bench like a dose of salts, diluting their effectiveness with each change. Their influential flanker, Paul Archer, went off after 16 minutes and with him all hope of saving this match.

Despite Ellershaw’s intervention and his devastating 35 metre solo run shaking off three tacklers like flies for OAs’ fourth try, man-of-the-match has to be Gregg with a hat trick of tries, the first half penalty and three conversions for a personal tally of 26 points.

He seems to be relishing the extra space to run into from full back, and if only all the tries had been closer to the posts, he could have hit 30.

Zac Vinnicombe at No 10 maintained his excellent distribution from the previous week whilst helping himself to two tries, the first finishing off Ellershaw’s damaging restart run and the second after a 25 metre charge upfield by Tom Gillings.

Chris Lombaard kept up his fine hit rate with an unstoppable curving run from halfway following a speculative kick downfield by Newbury. Hitherto untried centre, Adrian Dennis, caught the eye with his pace as he came on for Mark Evans whilst Simon Lincoln on the wing upset the Newbury defence with his impression of a human pinball.

As usual, Stefan Liebenberg was snapping and snarling at the base of the scrum, Jamie Bache and Rob Farenheim at No 6 ran and tackled everything, the second row of Gillings and Matt Alford ground it in and only gave one Yellow Card away in the process, whilst last week’s new front row of Charlie Hughes, Wes Cope and Tom Laws – with and without Ellershaw – proved a solid combination. Pride of place though, must go to Ollie Cooper-Millar who skippered the side for the first time and is proof positive of OAs’ commitment to minis, juniors and colts as he is a product of that system plus, it has to be admitted, a couple of clubs higher up the leagues.

Next Saturday, at the more leisurely time of 3pm, OAs entertain Clifton. A couple of seasons ago OAs were soundly beaten in a cup game at Clifton and revenge would be sweet.

OAs: Gregg, Evans, May, Lombaard, Lincoln, Vinnicombe, Liebenberg, Hughes, Cope, Laws, Alford, Gillings, Farenheim, Bache, Cooper-Millar.

Reps: James, Ellershaw, Cecere, Dennis, Edwards.

* An uncharacteristic slip up by OAs fifth team at Watford, as the home side shaded a tight game 12-5, was eclipsed by the fourth team who nailed 102 points at home on Hendon without reply.

Meanwhile also at Woollams, the thirds dispatched Harpenden 25-0 and a rearranged fixture under lights on the main pitch saw a close call as the second team squeezed past Ampthill by 21-18.