Vees push table toppers close

Second half comeback hands visitors the points

Herts/Middlesex One

Verulamians 15 HAC 16

Verulamians’ recent good form continued against league leaders HAC. However their five match winning streak came to end in a tight and hard fought contest. The home side had built a commanding first half lead but could not hold off a second half come-back from the impressive table toppers HAC.

After the poor weather during the week the Cotlandswick pitch was heavy underfoot. With the wind gusting at kick off the conditions pointed towards a physical forward battle.

HAC started strongly and hampered by the strong wind kept the game tight attacking the Vees’ fringe defence. The large and more athletic visiting forwards began to make inroads into Verulamians’ territory but the home side stood strong. Yet this early pressure took its toll and HAC took the lead through a penalty just outside the 22.

The visitors soon extended their lead with another penalty after some powerful tight play. The signs looked ominous with HAC looking firmly in control but the home side’s head did not drop and captain Rees managed to rally his troops.

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Verulamians’ used their knowledge of the Cotlandswick pitch well with fly-half Browne kicking superbly to put the Vees’ pack on the front foot. After putting the HAC lineout under pressure and chasing down a clearing kick the Vees were able to win a kickable penalty and Browne took the points.

HAC reclaimed the kick-off and looked to rebuild their momentum but were faced with some fierce defending from the home side.

Vees centres Rees and Choppin deployed the blitz defence well and forced the visitors to knock on after some thundering tackles. From the scrum Browne kicked long and in the swirling wind the HAC fullback knocked on after a strong chase from the Vees back three. Although the visiting pack appeared to have the edge in the loose it was a different matter at the set piece and the Vees made their superiority count when they won a penalty from a scrum in front of HAC’s posts. With the visitors’ backs turned expecting a kick at goal, wily scrum half Atkins tapped and darted under the posts to score. With the conversion taken the Vees took the lead at 10 points to six.

The home side were buoyed by their score against the league leaders and seized the initiative to extend their lead before half time. The Vees forwards found themselves with ball in hand and made some good ground, with Coyle and John in particular making good hard yards. With the visitor’s defence sucked in the ball was spun wide and after a composed draw and give from Choppin the supporting openside flanker Westhead gathered to score in the corner. The conversion was missed but the Vees had opened a strong lead and had victory on their minds as the half time whistle went.

However, HAC came out for the second half all guns blazing and showed why they sat on top spot.

From the restart they forced a knock-on and then, after a blindside break from the scrum, broke into the Vees’ twenty-two. The ball was kept alive and was offloaded to the number eight who stretched out to score despite full-back Ricci’s desperate attempts. The conversion was missed but the momentum was shifting firmly in the visitors favour.

Within minutes HAC took the lead after some more impressive interplay between the pack, who linked well and eventually drove over in the corner. Again the conversion was missed but the away team had now taken the lead at sixteen points to fifteen.

With plenty of time left on the clock the Vees looked to get themselves back in the game and worked their way down into the HAC half with more astute kicking from Browne. Vees competed well at the lineout and force a scrum on the edge of the visitors’ 22.

The Vees pack who continued to look strong at scrum time set up a good platform. The ball was driven up in midfield before being switched to the blindside where replacement prop broke the first tackle and crashed through a gap. With support close behind the Vees had a great opportunity to regain the lead but under pressure Graham knocked on in the tackle and the chance was lost.

During the final 10 minutes of the game HAC remained camped down Verulamians’ territory looking to seal the victory. The home side’s defence remained dogged however and scrapped to preserve a losing bonus point. Despite the loss the Vees left the pitch satisfied with a strong performance knowing they had pushed the league leaders all the way.

Verulamians will look to build upon a strong performance and get back to winning ways when they travel to Kilburn Cosmos with a score to settle having lost to the North West London side earlier in the season.

Vees: Trojans (Graham), Bloomfield, John, Luckhurst (Luxford), Wildey, Matthews, Westhead, Coyle, Atkins (Morgan), Browne, Viner, Rees (captain), Choppin, Waters, Ricci.