Old Albanian are the champions!

OLD Albanian clinched the National Two League South title on Saturday – although it didn’t all go quite according to plan in the final game of the season.

The Woollams outfit lost 19-18 away to Launceston but moments after the game came the news that title rivals Richmond had also lost, at Hartpury College – meaning OAs were declared champions.

“We did enough today,” said OAs director of rugby and player/coach James Shanahan after the League Championship cup had been presented by Mr Norman Robertson, chairman of the National Clubs Association.

“It has been an outstanding season.”

This is the first instance of OAs gaining promotion as champions and not runners-up after play-offs, and elevates the club into the elite top 40 rugby clubs in England; it’s also the highest that any Hertfordshire club has attained ever.

Next season in National League One, OAs will be playing the likes of Esher, Coventry, Blackheath, Rosslyn Park and Bill Beaumont’s Fylde.

This last game proved to be a spirited but lacklustre affair against Launceston, nicknamed the Cornish All Blacks (CABs), who had beaten Richmond a month ago and were looking for bragging rights over local rivals, Redruth.

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Richard Gregg opened the scoring with a penalty after three minutes but this was soon overhauled by the try of the afternoon from CABs’ No 14, Richard Bright who sped out of his 22-metre area, opened up space and punted ahead to win the race for the touchdown after 20 minutes; No 15 Keiron Lewitt converting.

Two minutes later OAs struck back after a lineout with a drive and pile-up over the line which hooker, Wes Cope, is reliably reported to have touched down. Gregg, whose afternoon was not aided by a swirling wind missed the conversion but added a further penalty a minute before half-time, whilst Lewitt had slotted two penalties of his own in between to bring the half-time score to 13-11 in the CABs’ favour.

If the first half was not a thing of beauty, the second half was for purists only. Lewitt bagged another penalty seven minutes in to herald a period of some 30 minutes spent almost entirely in OAs’ half of the field.

They did well to escape the immense pressure as Gregg kicked a grubber which went into touch on the CABs’ five-metre line. OAs forced a lineout of their own on the CAB 22 metre mark from which Shanahan launched his backs and Lombaard executed a neat change of direction to cut over near the posts to make Gregg’s kick a formality.

OAs then had retaken the lead at 18-16 but straight from the restart they offended straight on to their posts 35 metres out and Lewitt retook the lead at 19-18.

This produced a nail-gnawing three minutes which ended with an OA penalty on Launceston’s 30-metre mark and Gregg’s disappointing miss was followed by the final whistle.

A glance at the team sheets for the first match of the season, against the CABs at Woollams, shows the key reason for OAs’ success.

Of that day’s side Gregg, Lombaard, Shanahan, Marco Cecere, Cope, Ollie Cooper-Millar, skipper Lawrence White and OA Player of the Season Andrew Daish all played in both games. Lurking on the bench were Charlie Hughes, Lloyd Bickle, Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier and Ollie Marchon.

Continuity and the familiarity of training and playing together has helped the club through the edgy first half of the season with tight and confidence-sapping defeats against Richmond, Hartpury College, Henley and Southend going through to the monumental run of 19 straight, unbroken wins.

Woollams looks forward to welcoming both new clubs but more importantly new supporters next season in National League One where the rugby on show will be the best for miles around.