With a less than subtle reminder of GCSE English Literature texts, OAs showed the best and the worst of themselves in a match which was indeed, very much a clichéd game of two halves!
An outing under the lights on the OAs 1st XV pitch should have proved to be a rare treat for the players who had handsomely seen off the opposition in the League earlier in the season. Harpenden are the local rivals and have some players of real quality in their squad though by their own admittance, are probably four players or so short of being able to truly compete at the top county league level. Nevertheless Cup matches are a one off and potential shocks are always on the cards when any opposition underestimates a team or becomes complacent based on previous encounters.
The weather was surprisingly balmy for the time of year and without a breath of wind compared to Sunday’s match at Trailfinders, conditions just about perfect, all that was needed was an OAs performance to match them.
Both sides were struggling with injuries but OAs are more fortunate in being able to call on a high quality B team players to strengthen the squad when required. Sadly, Harpenden lacked a front row and the call for uncontested scrums means that quite often that a dominant pack cannot display their superiority; it’s fair to say OAs forwards suffered from this.
The match kicked off and Harpenden showed massive commitment and intent to every ruck often shrugging off OAs with consummate ease with real pressure being put on the scrum halves to dig the ball out and distribute quickly. OAs frankly were a bit of a mess and made the simple things look like doing quadratic equations (non-maths guy here!); keeping ball in hand were obviously words in a training manual rather than reality on the pitch. A game OAs should have been winning easily had become a dog fight for supremacy.
Finally, OAs began to find some space, ran some channels and made inroads into the Harpenden half. As the ball went along the line, Harry took a leaf out of Tom L’s book and kicked over the top for Will to score his trademark try albeit from a different provider. 5-0 plus Tom extras 7-0
The kick start this should have provided for OAs was used more by Harpenden to spur them on and they fought back time and time again putting OAs under the cosh with Jensen getting mugged on many occasion as he tried to release the back line. The forwards began to exert some pressure and pushed well Harpenden half and at long last with ball going through the hands, Charlie found Harry who finished with a simple dummy. 12-0. Surely this time OAs would shift up a gear and put the match to bed but no.
Harpenden probably sensing this was their last time to have a chance to achieve something this season having had a torrid time in the League, stiffened the sinews and summoned up the blood to launch wave after wave of attacks and coupled with some fairly terrible flaying arms tackling, got a deserved try just before half time 12-5.
OAs got a rollicking and a word that rhymes with it at half-time as with the best will in the world, the try conceded at the end of the half, meant the pendulum had swung firmly towards Harpenden.
The second half threatened to follow the pattern of the first but the pack had begun to show real dominance in the maul and this gave time for Jensen to get the ball along the line. Harry picking the ball up well inside his own half went on one of those runs outpacing the tacklers to touch down under posts and with Tom L adding easy extras, OAs looked more like themselves 19-5.
As Harpenden tried valiantly to get back in it, the spaces began to open up as OAs stole the ball from much improved rucking (by goodness it needed to be after the first half!). OAs began to dominate but a break by the Harpenden centre almost resulted in a superb break away try down the touchline and only a desperate tackle by Rukh prevented a certain try.
OAs keeping the ball more in hand and kicking more wisely opened up space and it was no surprise when Will completed his brace with a proper trademark try from a cross-field Tom L kick. 24-5. Despite the score line creeping away from Harpenden, they still plugged away but the efforts were taking their toll and as they got sucked into more skirmishes, OAs found the gaps. Charlie took advantage and ran in a splendid try from half-way. 29-5.
OAs butchered a couple of tries with forward passes but were now well in control. One final run from Harry opened up the line and good hands found Rukh to go over and work his way round under the posts to finish the scoring at 36-5 as Tom L drop kicked the extras.
A place in the final is now booked but this was a performance to forget and remember. Some serious lessons will be learnt from this and encouragingly they did learn from their mistakes, correcting them and playing the free-flowing rugby of which they are more than capable.
A final word for our opponents Harpenden who it is in no doubt gave us our hardest first half of rugby so far this season with a performance that they should be rightfully proud off.