Shanahan ushers in new breed to blitz Barnes

OAs strengthen grip on second spot

National League 2 South

Barnes 7 Old Albanians 45

FOR most of this season and certainly during this momentous eleven match unbeaten run, one could metaphorically set a clock by the steadiness of the OA team sheet. Week after week the same names clicked up as regular as, well, clockwork and that was half the battle won.

The last two season-defining wins against Hartpury and Richmond have taken a severe toll on the regular roll call as injury has struck. Gone, horrors, for the season is Terry Adams with a muscle tear. If that wasn’t bad enough injury has also deprived the club temporarily of the considerable services of Chris May and Ollie Marchon, whilst forwards Marc Comb and Tom Gillings are still in long term recovery mode.

Standing strong and unruffled in all this is Director of Rugby and fly half, James Shanahan. Without breaking more sweat than usual, he eased replacements Luke O’Keefe and Lawrence Rayner into his back line along with James Spiers who seamlessly filled Marchon’s role on the left wing.

To begin with – in fact for the first half hour – it did not make for easy watching. Back after injury and deputising for Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier, temporarily on Wales touring duty in darkest New Zealand, Mark Evans spent a little while sorting out which end of the ball was which but eventually played like his old self at scrum-half. The other newcomers settled down well in the second half where five tries were scored and either graced the scoresheet or contributed alongside old faithfuls like Bomber Lombaard and Richard Gregg to the attack. Gregg also had an excellent afternoon with the boot, slotting five conversions of the seven tries scored, mostly from wide out.

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The forwards were much the same as usual and here it was the planned replacements which caught the eye, none more so than Mike Cade who gave a promising cameo of a streetwise, all elbows and action prop, coming on after a storming sixty minutes from Charlie Hughes. As a luxury for Shanahan et al, the forwards were in dominant mood, opting for scrums when penalties were awarded near the Barnes line and grabbing their unfair share of lineout ball.

It was an age in the perishing cold before the first try was scored right on the thirty minute mark by No.7, Rob Farenheim, with some staunch support work to back up a move started by Gregg and No.8, Andy Daish. Shanahan himself pitched in with the next, again supporting good approach work by Lloyd Bickle – who for a lock forward does almost as much chasing as the back row – and Lombaard. Gregg’s conversions saw half time in at 0-14.

Claimant for the fastest try from the kick-off must be hooker Wes Cope who, standing out wide, caught the restart to the half from Shanahan and embarked upon an unstoppable trundle. This outrage galvanised Barnes, who put together their only fluent move of the afternoon to put scrum half Hamish Reeve over two minutes later for full back, Warren Gower to convert.

It was at this point that Shanahan wisely decided to put the newcomers through their paces and played keepball by putting phase upon phase of possession together to deny Barnes a further opportunity to fight back. This culminated in the man himself lobbing a pass out to O’Keefe on the wing for his score after fourteen minutes and a four-try bonus point.

There then followed a quarter of an hour in which Barnes who, at 7-26, had a slight if perhaps heroic opportunity to fight back before the final whistle, lost their collective discipline and went offside to referee Mike Cooper’s displeasure at set pieces as well as bagging the only yellow of the afternoon for lock, Rob Dumbleton. OAs increased the pressure towards delinquency by opting for scrums at every penalty, including three which Gregg could have potted whilst sleepwalking.

The resultant disarray saw easy pickings for Spiers in the corner after twenty seven minutes, Daish at a canter after thirty three and Spiers again after thirty eight minutes all taking full advantage with tries.

It is not difficult to see from this display where Barnes, who have won only four out of twenty games and who languish one from the bottom of the league go from here. They re-entered the league they left two seasons ago as Champions of League Three, which again seems to be their likely destination.

As for Shanahan, his patience was rewarded with both Worthing and Henley, hot on OAs’ heels at the start of the day both losing to unfancied opponents and leaving OAs four points clear of the chasing pack but still six behind leaders Richmond. There is no game next week in the League as Six Nations matches take place and some much-needed r’n’r can be enjoyed before Saturday, February 11, when OAs entertain Hertford at Woollams for a good, old-fashioned local derby.

OAs: Gregg, O’Keefe, Lombaard, Rayner, Speirs, Shanahan, Evans, Hughes, Cope, Cecere, Bickle, Phillips, White �, Farenheim, Daish.

Reps: Spackman, Cade, Cooper-Millar, Smith, Colfer.