OAs graduate with honours at Hartpury College

OAs up to second in the table

National League 2 South

Hartpury College 18 Old Albanian 32

CLOSE to the banks of the River Severn, about five miles north west of Gloucester Cathedral lies Hartpury College in a massive 100+ acre site featuring a main pitch with back-of-the clubhouse grandstand, an artificial pitch and a pitch reserved for the Premiership’s Gloucester Rugby Club training.

Regrettably, due to frost, none of the above was available for this match – the grandstand caused a frozen shadow to remain – and so both sides, officials and 326 spectators decamped to a distant, playable pitch and it could be said that at that moment, Hartpury lost their home advantage and with it the match and second position in the league.

And bittersweet revenge it was too for OAs who eased into Hartpury’s former second place in the table, putting to rights their 23-22 defeat last September. Bittersweet because all did not go to plan; the first half, which the home side shaded 18-14, was disfigured by five yellow cards of which the visitors’ share was three, and troubling with the sight of hero winger Ollie Marchon leaving the field at the end ruefully nursing a shoulder injury.

That half time score well describes how even the first half was; both sides scored two tries, whilst Hartpury fly-half Dan Robson kicked two penalties and full-back, Graham Speirs managed a conversion while OAs’ Richard Gregg answered with two conversions.

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Winger Ian Clarke, who also scored in the last meeting, touched down the first try after OAs’ defence had fallen victim to a number of free kicks at scrummages and found themselves beaten by a third set piece on their five metre line with a long pass to the unmarked Clarke. He struck again in the 30th minute with an interception and 80-yard scamper to the try line.

It only took OAs six minutes to fight back and even the scores after Clarke’s first try as the Hartpury defence were misaligned after a succession of tapped penalties, the last of which found Bomber Lombaard in space and with a brief canter to finish. Hartpury regained the lead at 8-7 three minutes later with the first Robson penalty only for the kick off to be fumbled to allow a grateful Terry Adams a run in from 30 metres.

In between this event and Clarke’s second try, the tone of the game reached rock bottom as Hartpury sought to rebuild from 14-8 down. OAs’ lock, Lloyd Bickle, whose tackling for a tall man is always well-aimed and ferocious mistimed one which went high. Hartpury piled in and both Bickle for the tackle and the home side’s No.8, Nathan Thomas saw yellow. Not three minutes had passed before Adams made the same mistake and he too in the company of Hartpury’s talented hooker, Koree Britton, went leaving the residue of the sides looking like a Rugby League match.

Further, just after Clarke’s second try, Lombaard also put in a high one which meant OAs went into half time both a man and three points down from the resulting penalty.

To their credit OAs came out for the second half ignoring the manpower shortage, concentrating on regaining the lead and enhancing their newly-won reputation for not giving away games at the death. They overcame being a man short and pressure forced Hartpury to concede a penalty on three minutes to get within a point thanks to Gregg. They did not let Hartpury score a single point in the half. They increased the try count to four, earning a bonus point and, crucially, each and every forward put in a phenomenal amount of covering work as well as coming near to domination of the set pieces.

On 58 minutes, Gregg again kicked a penalty to take the lead, which spurred Marchon to score from another dazzling run to the left corner following a piece of possession burglary by Marco Cecere on the home side’s 22 which Gregg chipped and Lombaard and Adams fed on to the winger. All of a sudden, Hartpury had to score a goal to equalise at 25-18. More runs came from both Adams and Marchon as the substitutes came on, while each Hartpury attack seemed easier and easier to clear as desperation worsened their handling and pulled men out of defence.

Finally, with only four minutes to go, Gregg picked up on the OA 40-metre line and hoofed a well aimed cross kick into an acre of space which the advancing Sam Collins picked up to speed under the posts for the bonus point before Gregg to took his tally for the afternoon to 12 with the conversion.

Next Saturday OAs entertain league leaders Richmond (KO 3pm).

OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Lombaard, Marchon, Shanahan, Bruzulier, Hughes, Cope, Cecere, Bickle Phillips, Cooper-Millar, White �, Daish.

Reps: Bailey, Ross, Farenheim, Spiers, Collins.