Following the euphoria of retaining the County Plate competition the week before it was back to the nitty-gritty of the league and the final match couldn’t have come any harder. We were up against Ampthill who had only lost one game in the league to top-of-the-table Cheshunt, who due to results the previous weekend were guaranteed promotion to Division One and came into the match with a very impressive record.
Off the back of a really good midweek training session and strong briefings from both Glenn and Kev the boys were fully focused on the need to produce one of their best displays of a long season to get at least one bonus point and guarantee survival in League 2.
It was a warm day and having the pleasure of playing on the bigger First XV pitch the boys came out of the blocks at a scary pace and tore straight into Ampthill. Strong runs were being made, big tackles being made and we were controlling the rucks. It wasn’t long into the match and we got our first try. A penalty from Gus kicked the ball to the 5m line from which Tommy threw into the line-out and set up the rolling maul. The pack took the ball to the try line at which point Tommy saw the gap in the Ampthill defence to dive low over the line for our first points of the day. Conversion missed 5-0.
The rest of the half was dominated by OAs. Again the forwards were all putting in a strong display with Antony, Oliver DP and Alex in particular using both brawn and muscle to gain good territory, regularly breaking the game-line as well as securing good quality ball for the backs. Unfortunately our handling wasn’t up to scratch and some good opportunities were missed much to the frustration of the forwards who were then having to undertake regular scrums due to the succession of knock-ons from both teams. Was the tension of the game getting to players? Certainly not the forwards or what must be said of the excellent defensive effort from Ampthill who never gave up and put in some big tackles just when it looked like one of our big runners was going to break through.
We went into the break 5-0 up and the parents enjoying the game from the balcony were worried if we would pay the price for not getting the points on the board that reflected our domination. The coaches warned the boys that Ampthill would come back stronger in the second period and true to word the first 10-15 mins was mainly spent deep in our half and before long the pressure paid off for Ampthill scoring just to the side of the posts and leaving a relatively easy conversion for 5-7.
The character of the boys would now be tested and we had to sustain some more pressure before a big changing point in the game saw Ben gather the ball in his own 22 embarking on a mazy run through half of the Ampthill team and into their half. He was tackled by the last man preventing a clear run to the posts for what would have been an amazing try but importantly we gained key territory. The belief can rushing back to the boys and we started gaining the upper-hand once again. A forage of forward runs then led to James F diving over the line for his 2nd try in consecutive matches but probably the most important of his OA’s career to-date. The joy on the boys faces as the referee’s arm went up will live with us for many a year. With the conversion missed we had taken a narrow 10-7 lead.
From there on we played like a team that wasn’t going to give this game up. We simply had too much to lose. Ampthill tried to come strong but their runners were met by a defensive block that wasn’t going to allow anyone get past. Every single player was putting in a shift resulting in a great team performance. In the last few minutes a couple of players made silly decisions to take quick tap penalties rather than kicking the ball into the corner but when another offside offence saw us rewarded a penalty Gus finally heard the shouting from the sides to take the kick. He kicked this through the posts and the ref blew for full time. 13-7 to OAs.
This was a great game from two very evenly matched teams that saw some good offensive work and while low scoring it was characterised by two very strong defences with players throughout both teams not afraid to stick in big hit after big hit. Our thanks go to Ampthill for a great game and we wish them luck next season in League 1, except when they play our A’s of course!
So the win saw us maintain League 2 status. All the games bar one (which was an off-day in more ways than one) were closely matched and demonstrate the huge progress the boys have made in being able to compete at such a high level against some very strong A teams. We have seen good development in all the boys who have all contributed in their own way. We have suffered at times through injuries, absences and a lack of subs in key games but the commitment and effort evidenced throughout the year as well as the final two results has capped a very pleasing year for both Glen and Kev. The boys have now been excused a few weeks off but been warned that it won’t be long before they should be thinking of starting their fitness work ahead of the 2017-18 season…