Saints slip down to third after defeat in top of the table clash

Old Haberdashers overcome spirited St Albans

London 2 North West

Old Haberdashers 13 St Albans 7

THIS top-of-the-table clash more than lived up to its billing at Old Habs’ Borehemwood ground on Saturday, with the teams proving to be very evenly matched.

Saints had inflicted Habs’ only defeat this season in the corresponding fixture back in the Autumn, when the surface was firm and true. Conditions underfoot this time were, in contrast, very soft, which to some extent negated the more free flowing rugby, both sides favour.

The home side started the brighter, retaining possession well and it was only some solid defence that kept Habs at bay.

With 18 minutes on the clock the home side’s relentless pressure eventually took its toll. From a penalty, Habs opted to kick for the corner. A clean take and the classic rolling maul saw them open the scoring. The conversion made, Saints found themselves 7-0 down.

Most Read

This seemed to spur St Albans into life and for the next few minutes they retained possession patiently and just as importantly, they held territory in Habs’ half, keeping them penned in.

With Habs becoming frustrated, they tried a set move from deep within their own half. St Albans centre Ross Turnbull looked to smash his opposite number but as he went to make the tackle, the home centre looked to off-load, Turnbull kept his balance well and snaffled the ball, racing the 30 metres to touch-down under the posts. Full-back Dave Watkins calmly slotted the conversion to level the scores.

The rest of the half saw both sides sharing possession, but neither had clean cut chances and no kickable penalties were awarded. Saints’ best effort was through a clever switch in the centres and Watkins cutting into the line. The score looked possible, but the cover defence took out wing Andy Flanagan 10 metres shy of the line.

The second half really was much as the first, with the respective defences holding sway over their attacking counterparts.

The mud was becoming increasingly ‘claggy’ and the ball was proving difficult to handle. Whenever a chance appeared to be breaking, either a crunching tackle or a spilled pass would end the attack. The home side, however, had the majority of the territory and a bit of Saints indiscipline gifted Habs a couple of penalties, one of which was taken.

Then midway through the half, another passage of Habs pressure again resulted in more penalty awards. Again one of the two attempts was slotted and Old Habs found themselves 13-7 up.

Both sides continued in their quest for more points although Saints became increasingly desperate with having always to build from their own half.

The forwards were too evenly matched for either side to dominate and although Saints’ backs were looking to run from anywhere the home side’s defence remained solid. Overall, Saints were disappointed they couldn’t find a way to break the opposition, but had to admit that the marginally better side won on the day. At least Saints took a losing bonus point from the fixture.

St Albans will look to get back to winning ways this Saturday when they welcome Fullerians to Boggymead Spring.

St Albans: Watkins, Coy, Lane, Turnbull, Flanagan, Alderton, Smart; Styles, Ransome, Erwee, Huddleston, Hillier, Lemiere, Monaghan, Edwards. Reps: Weldon, Gorman, Dickinson.