Old Albanian claim derby bragging rights over Hertford
OLD Albanian kept up the pressure on National League Two South leaders Richmond with a 33-21 victory against derby rivals Hertford.
OAs are now only five points behind Richmond in the league table having played the same number of games, 23.
Hertford would be looking to pressurise the OA pack as much as possible after their 23-6 loss at Hoe Lane last October.
Their objective appeared ominous right from kick-off as it only took 32 seconds before Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier took a quick tap from a penalty 5m from the home side tryline, to score under the posts, improved easily by Richard Gregg.
The OA half backs tested the Hertford defence by moving the ball wide with prop Marco Cecere in support, breaking the gainline.
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Hertford were creating havoc in the scrums pushing the OA pack backwards forcing aggressive pick and go from No 8 Paul Gustard who always found a gap to chink through.
The visitors’ backs seized an opportunity of OAs offside position but big tackles from the centre combo of James Speirs and Chris Lombaard stopped any penetration.
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Scrappy handling from the opposition backs and unsettled scrums can only be a recipe of disaster and OAs hooker Wes Cope was quick to react on loose ball and made a dominating run and hand-off to make further ground into Hertford territory.
Stand off James Shanahan hit Gregg beautifully coming at pace but he was caught by the Hertford winger.
For the first time Hertford looked dangerous in attack but winger Luke O’Keefe came off his wing to make a key tackle to diminish any try opportunity.
Shanahan kept the opposition guessing with a grubber kick through the defence. The pack set up a driving maul inside Hertford 22 and Gustard spotted a gap and eased over the tryline, improved by Gregg 26 minutes into the first half.
The OA three-quarter line struck again with slick passing though the line and forwards constantly in support gave Shanahan the perfect platform for a crossfield kick straight into the basket of O’Keefe. There was no question about this try and another conversion by kicking sensation Gregg.
Hertford kicked off again hitting the perpetual leg driving Lloyd Bickle, who had been everywhere on the park so far.
Chris May was put into a gap by Laurence White and exploited the staggered Hertford backline who seemed inferior to his striding goose steps, running half the length of the pitch to score under the sticks.
At this point it looked as if the home side would run away with the match but the opposition came out firing on all cylinders in the second period.
Replacement winger Mark Evans had his first touch of the ball and made good yardage using quick footwork into the Hertford danger zone, supported well by Philips.
Turnover ball gave Hertford possession and they scored a pushover try in the first five minutes, it went unconverted.
It wasn’t getting any easier for OAs as Philips was sent to the sin bin shortly followed by White, and OAs were down to 13 men.
Hertford used the overlap to their advantage and their hooker scored in the fourth quarter.
OAs upped their defence with crunching tackles, evident in the increased number of injuries as the second half progressed.
Gustard showed his frustration with an accurate chip and chase desperate to get OAs moving forward.
With only six minutes until the whistle OAs managed to build phase after phase into Hertford territory and initiative from Bruzulier combined with good footwork rewarded his team with a try in the corner.
Now playing into injury-time both teams were unsure when the referee was going to blow the whistle.
An unexpected knock on from OAs close to their try line was swiftly gathered by the Hertford No 20 into open space, closely followed by Albanian’s White.
You couldn’t fault the commitment of White but he was out-gassed by the try scorer who ended the match in the OA scoring zone.