Saints topple league leaders

St Albans inflict a first defeat of the season on table toppers Old Haberdashers

London 2 NW

St Albans 26

Old Haberdashers 7

ST ALBANS put in their best performance of the season on Saturday to see off previously unbeaten Old Haberdashers and move up to second place in the league.

On a grey, damp day, a big athletic Haberdashers side arrived confident of continuing their winning start to the season but they were to leave empty handed as a combination of strong defence and flair in attack took St Albans to a comfortable 26-7 win.

The league leaders started confidently and their strong scrum and hard running back row showed why they have been steamrollering sides in the early part of the season.

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However they were to come up against a very physical Saints side that competed hard at the breakdown and prevented their opponents from getting any quick ball and it was a penalty at the breakdown that allowed the returning Mark Kentish to score his first points of the season.

The rest of the first half was a very tight and physical affair with few clear cut chances as both sides struggled to break each other down.

A good break down the wing by Ed Coy nearly led to the first try but with the line beckoning the final pass was dropped.

The breakthrough finally came for the visitors as a poor clearance kick from the Saints was returned with interest by Haberdashers’ lively wing who offloaded to their influential No.8. He drew the last man and sent his full-back under the posts for an easy conversion and a 7-3 lead at half time.

The second half saw the Boggymead boys playing with much more purpose right from the restart. The introduction of Martin Alderton at fly-half took the Saints attack much closer to the gain line and centres Ross Turnbull and Gareth Lane began to find holes in the opposition defence.

It was after a break by Turnbull that Haberdashers were forced to slow the ball down illegally and Kentish stepped up to reduce the deficit to one. With the Saints’ tails up they began making real inroads.

John Sayers was turning over ball with alarming regularity as Haberdashers continued to run in upright and it was from one such turnover that Saints counterattacked taking the ball left before sweeping back right for full-back Kentish to crash over. He was unable to convert his score but the Saints were back in front.

This seemed to kick the league leaders into action and led to a sustained period of pressure in the St Albans’ 22.

The Saints’ strong defence held out but was forced into giving away a penalty right in front of the sticks as a try looked inevitable.

Confident in their set piece the visitors spurned the easy three to take a scrum five metres out. This felt like a key moment in the match and proved to be so as the home front row of Weldon, Lemiere and Edwards drove their opponents off the ball and forced a penalty.

A long kick to touch downfield set up a lineout and quick ball off the top was taken flat by Alderton who drew in the opposition and sent Turnbull straight through the gap. With the full-back to beat he found his skipper Lane outside him who cantered in unopposed. The conversion was good and the lead was stretched to 18-7.

Another Kentish penalty stretched the lead moments later and when replacement John Andrews went over in the corner following some more excellent lead up play by forwards and backs not only was the victory assured but a bonus point was looking possible.

In the last moments Saints again attacked searching for the elusive fourth try but desperate defence saw Alderton held up over the line.