I believe it was Match of the Day pundit Alun Hansen who at the start of the 1995-96 premiership football season said of the Man utd. Squad, “You can’t win anything with kids” 8 months later Fergie’s men, sorry, ‘kids’, picked up a league and FA Cup double.
On Saturday afternoon, whilst perhaps not on the same scale, a Hertford’s 3rd XV (The Hoes) containing more than a sprinkling of ‘kids’ overcame a competent and occasionally feisty Fullerians 2nd XV by 13-5 to bring home the Herts/Middx Merit Table 1. Plate.
5 current academy players, 3 of last year’s graduates and a total of 10 who are aged 21 and under joined forces with a few players in their prime and the occasional ‘fossil’ to keep the hardy supporters both entertained and nervous in equal measure.
From the start it was obvious the Fullers were a very well drilled unit who obviously trained together regularly. By contrast, ‘The Hoes’ have lacked the stability of a settled squad this season but more than made up for that with heart and ability.
In a game of attrition where defence was the order of the day the Watford outfit had the better of the early exchanges with the extremely robust Hertford backrow of Dunlop, Kaplan and Moss required to put in an enormous shift.
The deadlock was broken on the half hour when fly half Dave Albon slotted over a 35 metre penalty to give Hertford the lead. Fullerians came back with a vengeance and began to work their way up field through a combination of pick and drives forcing penalties and an extremely good series of catch and drives.
With 7 mins remaining in the half prop Ross Nelson was required to accept a 10 minute period of quiescence when he inadvertently rolled into a player taking a quick tap penalty! At the same time influential prop Liam Shields was forced to retire from the affray with the reoccurrence of the neck injury that has kept him out in recent weeks. Hertford were left to defend their line from a five metre line out without there lifting machines.
Hertford defended a series of lineouts thanks , in no short measure , to the ability of Tom Moss to perfectly time his downing of the catcher and the Darren Brown like ability of captain, Adam Roberts, to prevent a second yellow card for the defenders as the ubiquitous Kaplan offended.
The half came to an end with an excellent limpet like tackle from diminutive winger Spencer Thomas who wrapped himself around a charging forward and forced a knock on.
Hertford remained under the cosh at the start of the second half. The introduction of Liam Woodley added another hard edge which was needed to quell the Fullerian onslaught. Wing Leon Seabrook was now stationed next to the increasingly vocal opposition support and was using all his social skill to gain empathy and endear himself to them. It's fair to say they will not be exchanging Christmas cards!
Young Scrum half George Davies was gaining in confidence in what was a very tough game for any scrum half. His service was excellent and when it was required to take the ball into contact retained it well.
Hertford were getting a little more time on the ball and with Albon’s eye focussed on putting players into space the physical centre combination of Roberts and the extremely talented rampaging academy centre Tom Lamb were combining to make the hard yards.
This pressure told and after kick through by Dunlop and a foot chase the Fullers scrum half was given a 10 minute rest for pulling down the chasing Albon 2mtrs out. A penalty try, which nobody could have complained about, was not awarded but Albon added 3 to give Hertford a 6-0 lead. Youngsters Louis Kendrick and Ben Gilchrist now entered the fray for veteran wings Seabrook and Thomas.
Hertford now had their tails up and were starting to dominate and a series of very good inter passing manoeuvres orchestrated by Albon moved hertford into the red zone.
Superb defence was required to thwart multiple attempts to get across the line but now Hertford were retaining the ball and eventually a perfectly weighted pass from Davies found Dunlop running a great line, angled to take the ball at full pace 2mtrs out. His belly did the rest! Albon added the extras. 13-0
With 20 to go Full back Webb made way for the last of the Academy lads David Hale.
Fullers came straight back and were soon awarded a penalty 30 metres out. Hertford got a psychological boost when Fullers opted to get points on the board. Whilst it was the correct choice they had previously always opted for field position looking for their well drilled line out to inflict greater punishment. There was a sigh as the ball drifted wide.
Fullers now threw everything at Hertford who ended up camped on their own line.
Through all of this last year’s academy graduates of Hooker Christy Basra and locks Sam Glossop and Ewen Frederick had been working incredibly hard against the bigger and vastly more experienced Fullers pack. Hertford were taken back down to 14 as Ewen was forced to the naughty step for a technical offence. Shortly afterwards, his now broken second row partner Sam Glossop was forced from the field and had to be replaced by full back Webby.
Inevitably the reduced numbers and rearranged pack meant fullers squeezed over in the corner but couldn’t add the conversion with would have brought them to within one score of Hertford’s total.
The final few minutes were nail-biting until the final play was called from a scrum. The ball was passed pack to Albon who opted not to kick but ran to touch to present the match ball to the opposition supporters with whom he had built up an entertaining rapport during the game.
This was an excellent result against a very good team who were fit, well drilled and train together on a regular basis.
All the youngsters showed a maturity and resilience beyond their years in a tough game that was marshalled and controlled by the more experienced on the field to provide a complementary combination that puts us in a good place for the future.
It would appear however that the ‘yoof’ still have much to learn in the drinking, singing and banter stakes but they do have good masters!
I must also mention another Academy player who would have been in the side but for an administrative and communication mess up. So please accept our apologies once again Billy Coleman . The senior boys look forward to seeing more of you next season.
Updated 12:58 - 25 May 2018 by John Irvine