The challenge of defending the Herts County Cup could not have got off to a much tougher start than an away trip to Harpenden in wet and very windy conditions on the home sides new 3G pitch. Six months ago (SIX? I should have used that in the title!) Harpenden came to Chaulden Lane for a league match that proved to be incredibly tight, this cup quarter-final was even tighter and unbelievably tense.
The home side had the wind advantage in the opening half and took full advantage right from the kick-off, building play deep in the Camelot twenty-two, testing the defence with persistent pressure as they looked to drive over the line and deal an early blow. The defence remained resolute, but unable to fully clear and eventually conceded a penalty. Harpenden opted to kick, calmly slotting home the three points. 0-3.
From the restart Camelot were soon under pressure again, Harpenden pushing back and again forcing a penalty for not releasing. With less than six minutes on the clock they again opted to kick for posts, doubling the lead with another clean shot over the posts. 0-6.
For Camelot it was just not happening, too many silly errors, dropped balls, spilt catches and wrong decisions were giving the opposition the advantage...if the game plan was not going well, it was time to draw on some of the strength of character we all know they have. From the halfway line Harpenden kicked deep, blue and white hearts were in mouths as James Norman slipped as he went to gather, but he recovered to tuck the ball under his arm and set off on a run, beating two players, drawing in two others before popping the ball out to Terence who continued the momentum, tricking his way past more defenders before off-loading to John who carried the move forward. By now Camelot were deep in the opposition half, Harry was next to drive at the defence and eventually earn a Camelot penalty. A chance.
Dan kicks for corner and time to put a set piece into action. The line out goes short, but Ben spills it, backwards, the ball is picked up by James Isaacs whose pick and go is blocked. Inches from the line the ball is available by Ben's feet, he picks it up and puts it over the line - First try of the game, Camelot are back in it at 5-6 with 15 minutes played.. In the windy conditions the conversion is nearly impossible.
Five minutes later and the home side have extended their lead again, a well-worked scrum (probably the first one they had won all day!) created space out wide, despite some strong defending they were able to drive over to score - A superb conversion extended the lead to 13-5, and it stayed that way until the interval.
With the wind in their favour Camelot were not out of the match, but needed to up their game if they were to have any chance of turning this score around. It did not start well, from the kick-off Dan's kick cleared the dead-ball line and we were straight back for a scrum on the half-way line. Again the boys in blue and white dominated the scrum and Camelot were back on the attack, desperately looking for a gap in the defence...and it was Dan who finally found it, breaking the line only to be stopped just under the posts. The support was soon there, a ruck formed and after a few moments of setting the play James Isaacs popped out the back and dived the ball over the line. 10-13. The conversion was missed, caught in the wind. Game on.
A couple of minutes later and Camelot were ahead. Dan again breaking the line and sending the most delightful of kicks bouncing towards they try line. He sets off in chase, outpacing the opposition to dive on the ball and finish a superb individual try, built on the back of some superb team defending. Again the conversion went wide, 15-13 to Camelot with twenty-five minutes remaining.
The game was now a full on battle as Camelot looked to build on the lead, and Harpenden refusing to give up on the game. With less than five minutes to go, and no further scores in the game, Harpenden won a series of penalties as they edged their way closer and closer to the Camelot posts. On about the fourth of these penalties they again opted to kick for posts, three points that will turn the game on its head. After the superb conversion in the first-half this penalty looked relatively easy, but it blew wide and Camelot maintained the lead.
There was still time for more pressure from the home side as they huffed and puffed, but there was no blowing down the Camelot door with the clock ticking into the red, Dan kicked the ball out and confirmed another fantastic result from Camelot. Maybe not the finest performance of all-time, but in tricky conditions, and short of match practice, it showed once again the great character and resilience this team has. A fact picked up on by Coach Les Long in summing up the game: "Technique, decision making, game management are all areas that can be coached, learned and improved so plenty of upside for us there. What can’t be coached is spirit, fight, togetherness and a sheer will to never stop, to never back down - our team has all those qualities and showed them today."
FT: Harpenden 13-15 Camelot
Tries: Ben, James Isaacs, Dan