Sunday 9th December: Hertford A’s vs Barnet
Smashing Finish Breaks Barnet
Sunday 9th December: Hertford A’s vs Barnet
Nothing like a last-minute game, with an 11th hour request from Barnet who approached us for a game having been let down by Letchworth. Some coaches were a little hesitant being slightly under-prepared and knowing Barnet would be a tough game – but the boys wanted more game time – so bring it on. Numbers were down as several players were unavailable through holidays, illness and a journey to try and bolster a depleted B team at Shelford. So, this was going to be a test of character.
After a night of rain, Hoe Lane pitches looked lush but still firm underfoot and ready for game day. A strong westerly breeze gusted down the length off the pitch from the clubhouse into which Hertford would play into. The game was set to be a ‘training’ game of 4 quarters – which turned into more a battle of being quartered.
Hertford started strongly, with a characteristic press and disruptive style, applying plenty of pressure onto their opponents. Barnet were on the back foot and struggling to keep hold of the ball for any form of play. Hertford were all over them, and Barnet were on their own line digging deep, calling for reinforcements to stop the assault, only for them to turn up with the ball!! What happened there… and then a blink of an eye their known ball carrier Charlie (who did play centre last time now at no.8) eluded a tackle or two in his own try area only to start running down the far touchline and outpacing Hertford cover score an unlikely break away try for Barnet against the run of play (0-5).
After a little bit of scratching heads on that, Hertford resumed service, quickly looking to move the move. George Moody made a break, as the overlap was created, chips ahead collecting his own kick to then meet the last line of defence pops the ball back to Finn in close support to score a nicely worked try. (5-5)
The game was now settling down and our visitors had weathered the initial onslaught and now started to impose their own game. A Barnet scrum pretty much centre field, they moved the ball to strong centre who built up a head of steam, to batter through numerous uncharacteristically weak tackles to score a fine individual try for Barnet (5-10).
From the restart Hertford receive, and then a spell of scrappiness in the game from both sides. Hertford running the ball only for it to spill forward for it to be picked up and dropped by the opposition. Scrum and then another scrum, with a series of forward passes not to hand, Hertford being guilty of forcing the pass and trying to make that killer move work, rather than going through the phases. This led to knock-ons and fragmented rugby, and several turnovers, a strength of Barnet who are quick at the breakdown to strip the ball. Barnet came out of this with another charging run from their centre Josh to break through more poor tackles again making it 5-15 to Barnet at the end of the first quarter.
After a quick coach’s chat from both sides, Hertford started the second quarter like the first. Applying more pressure but this time a little more controlled. The result of some strong runs by Rayfield and Oli Hurd, linking with Archie Nicklin set up a camp close to the Barnet line. Pressure told as Smasher took the direct route like a missile to make it 10-15
Hertford continued to ride this momentum crest and better movement keeping the ball alive as Machine and Finn now linked up well with the stand-in scrum-half Chapple who was getting the ball out quick. Voller made a line break, surprising himself in the space he now found himself in, offloaded to Finn, then Crowbar and to supporting Rayfield who stormed over after taking a few players with him. 15-15
Hertford were now looking like taking control and a little ill-discipline from Barnet who expressed their opinion back to the referee, only to be marched back 10 on several occasions. Another break and great run from George set free from a Finn, only for the Barnet no.8 to make a literally smashing cover tackle saving an almost certain try. Hertford continued to recycle good ball, moving it to the other side. From the parent touchline the play was now on the far side, Finn made another dancing break and all but scored for the Barnet close marshalling – could Finn have hit the floor? – the resulting offload to Morgan looked like he scored after more twinkle toes, yet Barnet bundled him into touch at the corner, denied.
Tav junior came off as a precaution following a collapsed scrum and a sore neck. This put us to the bare minimum now, no subs, backs to the wall and dig deep time. Initially Iwan went to no.8, probably the smallest 8 ever, and soon swapped with the most forward-looking back Crowbar who’s only denying the inevitable migration!
More pressure came, and another strong Smasher run only for him to manage a sublime offload to Morgan whose great feet worked their magic this time to score even under the attention of several Barnet tacklers trying to hold him up, wriggled free to the floor – the wrestling training worked. Bringing the end of the quarter and the half (20-15)
Third quarter started very scrappy, and this reporter doesn’t have much on his notes. After another period with lots of turnover ball, ripped one way then the next, littered with knock-ons and scrums in a purple patch of play with neither side able to keep the pill sufficiently long enough to do any damage. The only note was a Barnet scrum move almost identical again – so far as ship it to the strong running centre and given too much room yet again obliged to score (20-20).
The ante raised, as was the volume of the vociferous Barnet supporters to spur on their determined players. However, Hertford started the final fifteen with intent, all the fitness game-related work paying dividends, keeping the ball alive and through the hands, 7 phases of play. A break down the righthand wing by Iwan and then support by George, recycled the ball for it to be moved quickly left and Finn’s vision to send Archie N through a gap score in the far left with men outside too – great rugby (25-20).
Barnet return with their own riposte, strong runs, a chip through had a scrambled defence cover but a missed placed clearance kick landed in the hands of the one Barnet player who was a thorn in our side – he returned with accelerated interest to power this time over George to bring Barnet back level (25-25).
End-to-end stuff now, as the kick-off was quickly turned over by the strong Barnet breakdown play but, in their eagerness, to regain possession not clearly allowing release, and frustration telling were penalised. Some direct runs from the Hertford pack to get the go forward and drive Barnet deep back into their 22m and several offsides from Barnet started to creep in, tiredness from the physicality of the game. From one such penalty Smasher could run and crash through for a score (30-25). The ref then had a little 1:1 chat with a visiting coach who felt a few decisions were not correct in his eyes.
Defensive time now with tackles being made all-over as pendulum swung back to Barnet, Hertford defending with all their might, hold up a would-be scorer. The resulting attacking scrum to Barnet, had the boys thinking the centre’s getting it again but the cheeky fly-half, who was the hooker in the second quarter, does a show and go, break for the line, desperate tackles keep him at bay with a series of breakdowns only for no.8 Charlie to crash over this time adopting the direct short route for Barnet to level (30-30).
Hertford come again, relentless desire not to be beaten, continual phases, advantage to for offside, piles on more pressure to the visitors and the clock running down. The Barnet coach keeping time caught up in the moment could’ve called the time with the clock in red but didn’t. Final last play and another penalty for offside sees Finn quick of thought pop to Smasher take it on, the bull charging, tacklers hauling him down for Smasher to reach out to the line and a winning score on the whistle. (35-30)
This was a battle of a game, end-to-end as the momentum switched back’n’forth as much as the lead changed hands. Credit and respect to Barnet who brought their A game, learned from out last encounter and challenged us. From a coaching point, there were many errors, but the greatest positive was seeing the dogged spirited determination from the boys. A special mention should go to Oli Chapple, who was unable to travel to Shelford, did a solid job stepping up from his centre role in the B’s to fill the no.9 berth, and got the ball out and away from the breakdowns – just needs reminding what side the put-in is on the scrum.
Hertford 35 – Barnet 30
(Smasher 3, Finn N, Morgan, Rayfield, Archie N)
Many thanks to Anna Hickey for washing the shirts, Paul Hickey helping me serve food post-match. Any missed bits or inaccuracies in my report were probably due to first aiding.