After two matches, Old Haberdashers returned to Elstree and Borehamwood for the first home game of the season. A heartbreaking loss at Old Priorians was followed by an encouraging victory at Amersham and Chiltern, it was time to see if the 18/19 vintage of OH was going to kick on against a team recently relegated from London & SE Premier.
Southend Saxons are a big club, they train 3 times a week and operate on a semi-professional basis – they’d started the season with a couple of losses, to Rochford Hundred and Eton Manor – so were keen to get their first points of the campaign in what was described as a #mustwin game for them.
The sun was shining, as Old Habs trotted out onto the school pitch, a change of venue necessitated by the Croxdale pitch being unplayable due to the dry weather and the presence of a bigger crack problem than Harlem in the 80s. The leadership team of Whittle and Clark had said a few words in the changing room to underline the importance of the day – a chance to see where we stand in the league.
Within seconds, Habs were flying. For 20 minutes, everything Habs touched turned to gold, with Clark charging from the base of the scrum and the Miller- Downie axis in the centres running riot through the Southend back line. In a noticeable improvement from the first match of the season against Old Priorians, chances were being clinically taken. Johnson, Downie (twice!) and Clark all dotting down as the score moved out to 26-0 after 25 minutes of play, McGhee doing his best to keep up from the tee.
The Saxons weren’t done, and credit to them, they recovered their composure and came at Habs with a series of powerful drives through their forwards. Their lineout was dominant throughout the day, disrupting OH ball and delivering a steady stream of possession to their half backs. After some indiscipline, a failed maul and some hard charging pick and goes- they finally went over – 26-7 at half time.
The Second Half began with another Habs score – Connor joining the party from the left wing following some good work in the centres again. Southend then appeared to rally, scoring a try following some OH indiscipline and then breaking from deep in their own 22 to go the length. The match now stood on a knife edge – 33-21 with 20 to go could swiftly become a much tighter match than Habs would have wanted. Jonny Whittle took charge, and orchestrated a series of tight and taxing drives for the Old Habs forwards, sapping the energy of the opposition and managing the clock down. After Southend had reclaimed possession, they tried one pass too many, the ball seemed to hang in the air before being plucked like a toffee apple by the grinning Charlie Johnson; off he scampered for his second of the day from well inside the OH half.
Back came the Saxons, and yet again threw one pass too many. Charlie Johnson had slid in off his wing, and grabbed at the ball like the last spring roll at the buffet. Off he went, with the defence in pursuit. His opposite number, who was built like a brick outhouse, and would have probably mulched Charlie for protein if he’d caught him, hot on his heels. CJ didn’t have the gas to shake him, and danced back and forth, stepping for all he was worth until he dropped his now dizzy pursuer, a lovely finish, and a well-deserved hat-trick. There was just time for a consolation score for Southend, who moved the ball well in the last play of the game to earn a try bonus point.
An excellent team performance from OH, with the backline firing in attack and in defence. Si Miller and Josh Downie were both formidable in contact, giving their opposite numbers a torrid time which I’m sure they will be forced to relive in training this week. Up front the pack were tough in the tight exchanges, and had the edge in the scrum. Mike Marsden in particular proving particularly stubborn and immovable.
A great win against a decent side – and then a fantastic social back at the newly refurbished clubhouse. Northern Night, orchestrated by Tom Jackson and the enigmatic Bundy was a cracker – with all the hits being wheeled out for the delectation of the triumphant Habs boys. At this point last season, OH had lost 3 matches, with just 1 try bonus point to show for their trouble, already 2018/19 is starting to look a bit better.