St Albans edged in local derby

St Albans threw away a 14-0 half-time lead in a loss to Hemel Hempstead on Saturday.

The Saints made the short trip to Hemel Hempstead on Saturday to face their local rivals in a fixture which historically has always been hard fought and with a close outcome.

For intensity and effort, it didn’t disappoint, however the quality, caused in part by the conditions, was at times lacking. Saints, still hampered by long term injuries to key personnel, made several positional changes and these seemed to affect the fluency enjoyed earlier in the season.

Saints started with the wind at their backs and attacking down the notorious Hemel slope. With these elements in their favour, they would look to garner as many points as possible and then defend their lead come the second period.

However, it was the hosts that made the more positive start, retaining possession well, keeping ball in hand and gradually making inroads into Saints territory. St Albans were a little fortunate when Hemel were adjudged to be holding on in the tackle just short of the line.

Saints captain Mark Kentish was relieved to be able to launch the penalty way into the Hemel half and from here Saints could begin some attacking intent. It was clear from the first scrum that Saints had the weaponry to dominate and this they did throughout the match.

Hemel conceded a penalty when their scrum disintegrated and Kentish duly punished them with his customary accuracy to open the scoring. Shortly after, a carbon copy offence, this time on halfway, was again depatched by the Saints’ full back.

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St Albans were perhaps guilty of trying to play the rugby in their own territory, when perhaps the kick downfield, aided by the wind, may have been the better option. The scrum remained the visitors’ best form of attack and from the axis of Huddleston at No.8 and Allcott at No.9, good ball was set up.

The looses Stevenson and Taylor made good yards going forward. Hemel conceded a penalty but advantage was played and Saints, with Price coming off the wing, created the perfect overlap, Alderton made the decisive burst before feeding his fellow centre, debutant Sam Millicheap to crash over. The conversion was spurned but Saints continued to look dangerous.

In the strong wind, however, handling errors were prevalent so in spite of the great platform laid in the scrum, Saints were not making best use of the quality ball in their possession. With St Albans camped on the Hemel line as half-time loomed another penalty was conceded under the home sides’ posts. Saints could have opted for the scrum in the hope of a 7 point gain but chose to take the easy three and go into the break 14 points to the good.

Hemel started the second period with belief and tactics that would serve them well. Whenever the ball was in their half it was quickly fired downfield followed by a ‘rush’ defence that continually put Saints back three under pressure.

To their credit Saints defence held firm at first. Fifteen minutes had passed before Hemel opened their account. A well struck penalty taken after Saints were adjudged of going off their feet at the ruck.

Saints, at this stage, still looked relatively comfortable, albeit having to play from inside their own territory.

The turning point came 25 minutes in: Hemel opened up the Saints defence with a sublime offload and the try was scored under the posts. The conversion brought the hosts back to within four points, but more importantly gave them renewed belief.

A simple penalty five minutes later saw the difference down to a single point. Saints didn’t panic, regrouped and spent the next few minutes in the Hemel half and on the attack. Wing Phil James looked odds on to score but a fantastic try saving tackle thwarted St Albans.

However, their scrum continued to cause the hosts problems and yet another penalty saw Kentish step up and restore the visitors four point advantage.

The forty minutes were just about up, but as there had been several injuries and stoppages, the referee would be adding on a fair chunk of time. Hemel were now throwing everything at St Albans. The visitors, with possession, tried to run from their own 22 as they knew the kicking option would fall foul of the conditions.

Good Hemel pressure forced a knock on and from the ensuing scrum, the hosts found a chink in the now tiring Saints defence to score in the corner. An excellent touchline conversion gave Hemel the three point advantage but there was still time for Saints to gain good field position up-field.

Retaining the ball was imperative and the hope of a penalty award to maybe tie the scores. A penalty was awarded but it went to the home side and they gratefully kicked the ball into touch to finish the contest.

Next Saturday, Saints host UCSOB in a rearranged fixture after flooding caused the postponement last week. Although they currently sit mid table, they will not want to see their season ‘peter out’ with further average performances.