It’s always difficult as the undoubted favourites to retain the County Cup, to live up to the high expectations placed on you by others and also by yourselves particularly when you are playing a side such as Bishop Stortford. Nevertheless the boys were in confident mood having swept all opposition aside throughout the season and most recently, in Ghent, Belgium where they triumphed in a highly prestigious competition without conceding a try. Bishop Stortford having surrendered their League title to OAs earlier in the season was looking to for last chance silverware and was buoyed by the return of several key players missing from the League encounter.
OAs have achieved what no other age group have done previously in OAs history and got all three sides through to their relative finals but this in turn brought its own issues. The squad has struggled throughout the season with injuries and unavailabilities and despite the best endeavours of the coaches, it was spread thin again with the bone hard pitches meaning the increased likelihood on further injuries as the games simultaneously commenced
For the A team it was crucial they maintained the good habits which they have acquired throughout the season and a fast start was exactly what they got! With a sizeable and enthusiastic crowd cheering from the stands, OAs put on a show of skill, pace and power to grab a lead. With the ball going quickly through the hands, Charlie found himself in space on the wing and showed considerable strength to get the ball down 5-0.
All season the forwards have treated the rugby aficionados to the power play of the driving maul. Having forced Stortford to kick out to their 30 metre line, OAs began a driving maul from the lineout. No-one expected the OAs forwards to drive further than 10 metres or so against a powerful and well-organised Stortford pack. But not only did they drive it 10 metres but with supreme control, rolled it a further 20 metres for their best try of the season with Ryan this time finding himself at the base for the try. A good conversion from Tom L and the lads were 12-0 to the good.
With OAs in full command of all areas of the pitch, it was only a matter of time before Stortford rallied and had a period of play which in the end was a defining moment. Having abandoned their backs who they perhaps felt were being overwhelmed by OAs, they decided to match OAs in the forwards. With the sloping pitch and slight downhill to their advantage, they used repeated one out runners to drive inch by inch closer to the OAs line. The OAs penalty count began to grow and the referee had no choice other than to consign the unfortunate Hamish to the sin bin. OAs down to 14 men then demonstrated their own variation of the Saracens Wolf Pack and hounded and harried Stortford in to an error. Stortford who had sensed an opportunity to get back into the game looked deflated as their efforts came to nought.
To rub salt into the wound, OAs then broke forward and with a simple easy play – at least that’s how they made it look – the forwards once again secured good ball and ball broke to Rukh. A quick pass to Harry and with Ben in support suddenly the chance was on. Drawing the last defender, Harry slipped the ball to Ben and over he went in the corner. 17-0.
Stortford knew the game was getting away from them unless they broke back quickly. With some determined forward play, their huge bearded Number 8 broke free and this guy is strong, quick and unsurprisingly smashed through the OAs defence and powered under the posts 17-7.
Stortford had their tails up and OAs found themselves pinned back well into their own half, struggling to free themselves from the vice –like grip Stortford were now exerting on the game. The OA supporters began to feel a sense of foreboding and with the Stortford crowd getting behind their team; it was surely only a matter of time before Stortford scored. Having worked an angle, Stortford brought their backs into play and as they moved it along the line with an overlap beckoning a try seemed inevitable. Will R then took a chance and anticipating the next pass, intercepted, running ¾ length of the pitch to touch down under the posts. 24-7 with Tom L the easiest of extras. Another defining moment and with it half time.
The coaches from both teams then rallied the troops and with the injuries beginning to mount the bench was looking increasingly threadbare. Nevertheless this is the kind of lead OAs should not surrender but as always the first score of the second half would be crucial.
Stortford were clearly of the same mind.
From the start Stortford applied the pressure and with OAs down a man through injury, grasped a chance. Once again it was their Number 8 who, with sponsorship from Gillette in the offing, muscled his way through some weak OAs tackling and ran in another try from well inside the Stortford half. 24-14.
OAs began to look a little shaky and some desperate clearances from inside their own 10 metre line only served to emphasise how much pressure was being placed on their line. Finally some good kicking from Tom L alleviated the situation and with more excellent rucking from the forwards, they secured a penalty, which Tom L slotted over 27-14.
A late no-arms ‘tackle’ on Tom L meant a binning for their influential Number 8 and with him yellow carded went Stortford’s chances to get back in the game. Tom launched the subsequent penalty deep into the Stortford half and the forwards once again drove a maul forward. With the slope coming to their assistance, a repeat of their first half effort was definitely on. As the maul collapsed, the ref decided it had been deliberate by Stortford and a further player was sent to the bin. Stortford down to 13 with less than 10 minutes to go, began to lose heart and OAs then tightened the screw further.
Stortford found themselves being overrun in the forwards with the their energy being sapped by a master class in the driving maul wearing down their opponents. Gaps then appeared in their centre and Rukh, spotting one such gap sprinted through under the posts and with Tom L adding another conversion, meant OAs were all but home and dry at 34-14.
With Stortford restored to 14, there was still a possibility of a last ditch effort but OAs, whilst having their sleepy moments in the middle of game, are at their best in the last phases of a game when their stamina really tells and all that time training, reaps its rewards.
As the ball broke along the line, kick through finally went the way of OAs – they had not had the luck of the bounce throughout the whole game – and Harry judged the bounce and ran unopposed to score the last try under the posts 41-14 with the Tom L conversion.
If you were looking from the outside at the score line, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a dominant, rampant OAs victory but the reality was it was anything but. Stortford were more than worthy opponents who battled tirelessly all morning, there pre match tactic was to take on the OA Pack with repeated forward exchanges close to the ruck which made for a fascinating tactical and physical match up and whilst they did indeed come up short in the end, should feel proud of their efforts and their contribution to a gripping, free-flowing game which matched high intensity with high skills levels.
OAs retained the Cup and with it completed the double for the season. The coaches in particular need to be thanked for the way they have encouraged the boys to develop into what must be one of the finest club sides at U15 in the South of England. They brim with confidence without arrogance and no longer panic when under pressure however intense that pressure may be. The comradery is there for all to see. They support each other and recognise the importance each one of them brings to the team.
Great performance boys and also well done for along with the victorious B Team clapping off their C’s after their loss in their final a real statement of squad camaraderie and class.
Thank you to our hosts Hertford RFC who as always provided a well organised event.