Habs returned to Croxdale road as the weather brightened up and there was excitement in the air as a new kit delivery meant stash man, Conor Michaels, had only made us wait 18 games into the season to get the new shorts and socks. Alas only 10 pairs of XL shorts were delivered and a random assortment of non-Habs coloured socks, ‘Bring back Will Brown’ was said more than once. Thankfully our resident Frenchie could be trusted to wash our kit so thoroughly it was basically brand new anyway – or not, an early DOTD nominee.
With a packed out lunch at the clubhouse before the game, expectation levels were rising for another classic against a Shelford team where only 3 points was the difference after 80 mins last time out.
Habs warm up felt slick, with Josh Downie and Chris Surname returning to the backline, Clarky back in his rightful place in the backrow after a reasonable impression of a 12 against Chingford last time out. Games in January at Croxdale are won upfront and with the Habs pack, the strength in depth is building and their confidence with it too. The stage was set and Habs were coming down the slope in the first half.
Habs immediately got on the front foot in the first phases of the match, despite aggressive linespeed from Shelford, Habs retention was good and both backs and forwards tested their opposite numbers. Some with more success than others, with Jonny Gatus copping a particularly strong hit in the middle. After a half break from G. Sleepbrook, Shelford knocked the ball on in the tackle, giving Habs a 5m scrum right between the posts. The scrum held and Whittle spun a lovely bounce pass to Surms, the pass wrongfooting a Shelford defender and allowed Surms to step off his right and dive in for the first score of the game. Taj with a lovely nudge to continue his fine run of form with the boot. 7-0 Habs and a strong start.
Then came a little bit of complacency from Habs but credit to Shelford, the away team hacking through a dropped ball from a lineout and suddenly pressing into Habs 22m. Habs gave away the pen on the retreat and Shelford opted for points. 7-3.
This error seemed to kick Habs pack into gear, after an excellent up and under from Surms, the kick chase was good and a sliced exit from Shelford gave Habs great field position. Ian Sanderson hit Mike Marsden and the maul rumbled forward, the backs even got involved for the final couple of meters and Ian Sanderson was under the pile up of about 15 lads to claim the score. Con missed, 12-3 and the last meaningful play of the half.
The half time team talk was all about the next score, the game was a bit scrappy but Shelford were still in the hunt and Habs needed to take their chances and put them away when the opportunity came. We talked about patience and building our structure but Shelford came flying out the blocks. Their backrow were a persistent threat in attack and after a couple of impressive offloads they found their wing in space and we were now in a 2 point game. 12-10.
Going up the hill and with momentum swinging towards Shelford, Habs went back to a solid kicking game. Whittle sending up some well placed box kicks with CJ, Clarky and Downie giving the Shelford back 3 a nightmare, their excellent kick chase gaining Habs important field position. Shelford went down to 14 for a high tackle and Habs looked to press the advantage home. A scrum on the Shelford 5m looked to be a certain penalty try, only for the ref to penalise Gatus, the reason: ‘he’d lost his bind so badly he was waving to the crowd’ . One to query in the bar after. Shelford exit but Habs kept the pressure on.
Back to more play between the 10m lines, Tommy Arnott getting cut in half before plucking another Whittle box kick out of the air and Gunning it up the field. More Habs indiscipline and it was starting to get a little feisty, another yellow for Shelford and a couple more handbags with Conor ‘McGregor’ Michaels never too far away from the action. Another good bit of play for Habs, CJ going close down the line and the resulting play gives McGhee a pen from infront (second time around). 15-10.
Finally Habs got their 3rd try, a lovely miss pass from Gatus found Downie racing down the wing, their 15 couldn’t get across and Josh finished with aplomb. Chris Surname looked to particularly enjoy that one from the video session. Con missed 20-10.
Credit to Shelford for coming back once again and earning a pen, slotted by their 12 who again was a stand out player with his boot. Overall, 2 very competitive games played in good spirit, Habs march on to a top 4 clash against Brentwood with a score to settle from earlier in the season.