Title dream edges nearer for Old Albanian after thumping win at Shelford

IN administering their seventh 50-point hammering of the season to a careless Shelford side, OAs now have two major hurdles left to overcome.

The first and arguably the most difficult is a home fixture against free-scoring Worthing, who currently lie third in the table; they trounced Taunton 73-5 at home, whilst second-placed Richmond could only draw 16-16, away at Henley Hawks.

Assuming Worthing’s score can be kept to a respectable level, the final hurdle is one which upset Richmond’s apple cart three weeks ago – a visit again to Cornwall, this time to Launceston.

In the meantime Richmond have perhaps the easier run-in with a home against Lydney and an away to Hartpury College.

Worthing, if they want to remain in contention, must accumulate maximum five points from their visit to Woollams and a home match against Clifton.

The current standing is OAs 117, Richmond 113 and Worthing 108 points.

Many OA supporters were frankly dreading this match, sensing an upset in the making.

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Shelford and OAs have played each other as clubs pretty well continuously for the last 50 years; an additional frisson for Shelford supporters was the presence of OAs’ director of rugby, James Shanahan, at No 10 and formerly player-coach of Cambridge, not a million miles up the road.

He received a number of targeted gang-tackles early in the match welcoming him back to the city.

As has so often happened this season, the opposition set out to slaughter OAs before the breath had escaped the referee’s whistle and, sure enough, after six minutes No 10, Harry Owens, had bagged a penalty.

Worse was to come as encamped on Shelford’s 22-metre mark OAs generously gave the ball to Shelford dangerman, No 13, Peceli Nacamavuto, and stood obligingly aside as he jinked his way to a gap and sped for the line.

Only a foot in touch saved a certain try but it was a wake-up call to the OA defence.

However the OA forwards had begun to make their presence felt, bolstered by the return of lock, Jon Phillips, and on Shelford’s five metre mark began a concerted drive from a set scrum towards the home side’s quaint signal box behind the dead ball line and Andrew Daish touched down.

Richard Gregg missed from the corner but ended the afternoon with a penalty and four conversions to his credit with replacement Keiron Davies bagging two conversions after he left the field.

It was Gregg’s surging run into Shelford’s thirty metre area which led after some rucks to Bomber Lombaard running straight through a gap towards the posts only to be hauled down; credit to lock Lloyd Bickle for being on his shoulder to score.

Gregg then slotted a penalty and, just as half-time loomed, the psychological horror occurred as Shelford’s flying winger, Ben Seru, ran in to narrow the score to 15-10.

That try, however, was very much against the run of play – especially as the OA scrum had just won a strike against the head – as Shelford had begun to show remarkable vulnerability in midfield to self-destruction.

Time and again a pass would miss out men and just go to ground or find its intended recipient only for the catch to be spilled.

The patient attitude which Shanahan has taught his men paid off as for the remainder of the match, barring a breakaway try from No 15, Steve Smith converted by Owens in the last five minutes, all OAs had to do if they lost possession was sit around like vultures and wait for it to inevitably come to them.

So despite a yellow card for hooker Wes Cope after a selection of fine, albeit ill-concealed, offences on the ground, OAs made merry with four tries in twenty-eight minutes.

This included a wonderful break-out of his own 22 by Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier which hoisted both the much-needed bonus point and OAs’ collective 1,000 points for the season.

Winger Luke O’Keeffe ran one over in the corner, Cope cocked a snook at the card and drove over whilst Daish increased his tally for two with an elegant run-in from his own thirty metre mark.

Final honours went to the hard-working Jimmy Speirs as he picked up another loose ball and cantered in to make the score 48-17 which Davis rounded-up.

On Saturday, 3pm, Woollams will come alive with both OA and Worthing supporters as the home side seek to extend their unbeaten run to 19, bury Worthing’s challenge and keep Richmond strictly at arm’s length.