Slow start costs OAs
London and South East One Old Albanians 17 Barnes 20 AS in their last home league fixture at the end of November, OAs played themselves back into a very close contest against top flight opposition but once again lacked the precision to seize the all imp
London and South East One
Old Albanians 17
AS in their last home league fixture at the end of November, OAs played themselves back into a very close contest against top flight opposition but once again lacked the precision to seize the all important result, falling short of their target by a single score.
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Head coach Bruce Millar must have been wringing his hands in anguish at the interval, having seen his side stray woefully from their game plan which had been designed specifically to avoid the lesson in running rugby dished out by the visitors in the first period.
Well aware of the potential carried by the league's most potent back line, Millar and his partner Mark Langley had prescribed a tight, controlled approach to proceedings.
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Yet, Barnes' gifted backs were quicker out of the blocks and within two minutes of the start were seven points up, courtesy of some very unconvincing, home defensive work. Full back Warren Gower went over and then coolly converted his own try, an early foundation for a personal haul of 15 points over the afternoon.
As ever, in front of their home fans, OAs showed no shortage of commitment or drive and their pack, where Matt Hart put in another competent performance as deputy for regular hooker Gregg Botterman, were always equal to that of their opponents in the amount and quality of ball delivered. Ex-Colts stars, Dan Henderson and Matt Alford, were reunited as partners on the flank and performed steadily in front of the experienced Paul Gustard at number 8.
OAs' backs, Tom Chesters and Dene Miller, took the game to Barnes at every opportunity and the willing Chris May was influential both in his starting position at centre and latterly at full back. Collectively, however, this was a disappointing first-half performance for OAS' back line who contrived to over elaborate their efforts in finding a breakthrough and kick away valuable possession to a grateful opposition.
As had been the case in the corresponding away fixture, Barnes seized upon every opportunity to counter and their disciplined attacking moves, executed at speed and often along the whole line, stretched the home defence to the limit.
After 20 minutes Richard Gregg missed a penalty from distance though his opposite number, Gower, had more success when it was OAs' turn to offend shortly afterwards. When Adrian Penzhorn stole over the home line in first half injury time and Gower was again on target with the conversion, OAs were 17 unanswered points adrift.
The embattled Woollams Men were relieved, however, to open their account with Gregg's penalty success, the very last action of the half.
Refreshed from an interval cuppa and possibly smarting from their coach's critique, OAs emerged a different side to the one that had laboured its way through the opening session.
Adopting a more direct approach from the restart, they were soon operating deep into Barnes territory and Chris May looked to have set up Alex Bennett, before the big lock was grounded agonisingly close to the line. The Woollams faithful did not have to wait too long, however, for their side's opening try as, in the next assault, Tryfan Edwards sidestepped his way cleverly under the posts. This was just reward for the industrious centre who, as captain in place of the absent Botterman, led by example throughout.
Gregg obliged with the conversion and Andy Pearson replaced Nathan Byrne after the genial, Aussie prop took a painful knock.
With only 10 minutes having elapsed, a rampant OAs were on level terms.
Oliver Peck made a penetrating run and nudged a measured kick behind the flat line of defenders. Anticipating such a move, Tom Chesters was on hand to outpace his markers and dive on the ball, setting up Gregg for another two pointer.
Parity was broken with 65 minutes on the clock when OAs were punished for offside and Gower stepped up to the mark to produce another convincing kick.
In the onslaught that followed, the home side laid siege to the Barnes line but, repeated OAs efforts were being thwarted by a mixture of dour defending and a certain over eagerness which the match official was quick to penalise.
Gregg danced around two defenders, then May fed Ed Panting who was similarly apprehended in full flight. Panting then suffered an awkward moment as Barnes counter attacked in strength, though the danger was cleared.
Home pressure had begun to tell and Barnes were now conceding penalties.
Two such opportunities could have turned the game for the Woollams men in the last five minutes. On the first occasion they elected to go for goal and the anxious crowd fell silent as Gregg's effort sailed narrowly wide. Then, in the dying moments, the gamble to bet all on a set-piece pushover backfired as the kick failed to find touch in the corner and another massive clearance kick allowed a fortunate Barnes side to celebrate the closest of victories.
OAs end the year in a creditable sixth position but had they been able to close out a number of games such as this then they would, no doubt, be alongside Barnes in hot pursuit of league leaders, Shelford.
Next up in the New Year are testing away matches at North Walsham in the league on January 7, followed by a Fourth Round tie in The EDF Intermediate Cup at South West One leaders Clifton.
OAs: Tom Chesters, Dene Miller, Chris May, Tryfan Edwards, Ed Panting, Richard Gregg, Oliver Peck, Adam Gelman, Matt Hart, Nathan Byrne, Alex Bennett , James Kriukelis , Dan Henderson, Matt Alford, Paul Gustard. Subs (all used): Andy Pearson, Simon Lye, Ed Orchard.