A trip to play OA’s at Woollam’s Playing Fields always has a ‘big match’ feel to it and with both teams having lost one game in the Herts Middlesex Division One league this season, there was plenty at stake. A win for the home team, and they will have as good as won the league, a Hemel win and the title race opens right up.
It was a horrific day for rugby, strong winds blowing rain horizontally across the pitch, at any level your expectations would be for a poor game of rugby, but there is no such thing when these two teams meet and this was another classic.
The first twenty minutes saw both teams sounding each other out, matching up in defence and attack. Both sides were efficient in the set pieces, competitive in the breakdown and displayed handling skills that made a mockery of the difficult playing conditions.
In terms of territory Camelot were dominant and fully deserved to take the lead following an excellent scrum on the OAs ten metre line, the backs quickly broke out wide with some excellent interplay breaking to within five metres of the try line before being stopped. The support was there to keep possession, one more surge from the forwards and then Caolan was on hand to pick the ball out the back of the ruck and dive over the line before the defence had a chance to get into position. A difficult conversion was missed. 5-0 Camelot.
That is how the score stayed for the rest of the half.
Ten minutes into the second period and Camelot doubled the lead. Another good break, this time from a lineout within their own half, once again saw them make it all the way to the five-metre line before being stopped. A Camelot lineout. Won in the air by OAs, but they could only knock it back towards their own try line where the slightest of hesitation was pounced upon by Caolan who sneaked in for his second try of the match. Another missed conversion. 10-0 Camelot.
Against any other opposition you would feel that is a comfortable buffer, but not at Woollam’s Playing Fields, there is always a sense of fear and inevitably, a feeling that was justified on this occasion. A quick breakaway score and a successful conversion pulled the score back to 10-7. Nothing in it.
OAs were now on the ascendancy and scored their second try from another breakaway, before raising his hand in the air the ref had a quick check with the linesman for a potential forward pass or any foul play, but with nothing spotted the try was awarded and the home side were ahead 12-10.
On the sidelines that feeling of fear and inevitably began to sink in. On the pitch, the boys in blue and white thought differently. They were not going to give up on all their hard work that easily. A little shakedown and a chat amongst themselves and they were galvanised to begin the fight back.
What followed was perhaps as a good ten minutes of attacking dominance as you are likely to see across the whole of this Six Nations season. Maturity, professionalism, patience, teamwork, support and belief was in abundance as Camelot set up camp in the OAs twenty-two looking to create the most memorable of finales.
The intensity of the match had gone off the scale, the tension on the side-lines was in danger of bubbling over as the excitement mounted. It looked like they had done it when Camelot broke out the back of the scrum and powered towards the try line, a couple of phases and the ball looked to be over. Players and parents celebrated, but the ref called the play back for a penalty at the scrum. No need to consult with the linesman this time. On the touch line there was confusion as to why play had carried on with Camelot in dangerous possession if there was an OAs penalty advantage from the scrum, but on the pitch the boys were resetting ready for their next attack.
Moments later it again it looked as though Camelot had scored, Seb surging towards the line amongst a pile of bodies, but unable to get the ball grounded. Another let off for the home side. Fear and inevitably were joined by frustration as a resilient defence piled on the pressure and potential penalty shouts were overlooked. Indeed, at one point Coach Les got a warning from the referee, mistakenly being picked out for comments made by parents getting over-excited as they so desperately wanted another memorable win against adversity to add to their Camelot youth memories.
Back on the field things were much calmer, Dan Hoyes even finding time to remind the crowd that they needed to calm down! The game needed a magical moment, there were already twenty heroes in blue and white shirts, but the crucial score over the line came from a player who one hour before kick-off was listed as ‘awol’ having not returned home from 18th birthday celebrations the night before. Twenty minutes later he was found and hoped to arrive in time for kick-off. Ten minutes before the start of the match he came running over from the car park to join his teammates who were just finishing their warm-up.
Fast forward an hour and it was James Norman, on his 18th birthday, who was on the end of Freddie’s pass, following more excellent forward play in the OAs twenty-two, with plenty of work still to do to dive into the corner and score the crucial winning try. Unbelievable, who would have thought it? It just goes to show, inevitability is not always a bad thing!
15-12 to Camelot. There was still five minutes of the game to play out and in amongst all the excitement it is easy to overlook quite how brilliantly those minutes were handled. Calm, composed and mature. The home side never looked like getting back in the game, it was not for the want of trying, they simply could not find their way through the blue and white defensive wall that was comfortably putting the finishing touches to one of their greatest performances of a decade filled with magical moments.
As the players made their way to the dressing room you could almost hear the cheers coming from Bishops Stortford, as the Camelot win re-ignited their title ambitions too. What a finish to the season we have instore, what a credit to rugby in Hertfordshire these teams are.
FT: Old Albanians 12-15 Camelot
Tries: Caolan 2, James N 1