Old Haberdashers 29 - 0 Old Priorians
Saturday 15th February
An excellent week of Habmin from the OH committee meant that Old Haberdashers were able to run out on Saturday against Old Priorians even as Croxdale lay drowning underwater. We extend our warmest thanks to Harpenden for hosting us, and to Old Priorians for making the extra few stops from St.Pancras, even if the start time meant we couldn’t play on the lovely floodlit 4G surface.
A good warm up gave Old Habs the confidence that handling was still possible in the conditions. Sadly the conditions significantly deteriorated as kick off approached, a strong wind smashed diagonally across the pitch and the rain followed it sideways… a particularly hardy band of supporters rubbed their hands, stomped their feet and attempted to warm their cockles in anticipation of some deliciously old-fashioned rugby.
Kicking off with the wind on a slippery, but relatively firm pitch, Old Haberdashers sought to put pressure on Old Priorians from the start. Tight phases, short passes and knock ons were the order of the day. Habs were certainly up for the scrap and had an appetite that belied the foul weather. With the ball in hand, the boys in Blue and Magenta got round the corner consistently, working hard to stretch the defence. An extra carry from George Seabrook around the OP’s 10-metre line opened up the space for Josh Downie to go one on one with their winger. JD didn’t need a second invitation, getting round the outside of him before curving inside the full back under the posts. A lovely finish which made the kick easy for Ian McGhee, who promptly toe-poked the ball wide.
A try from 40 out by a back in space was a lovely way to start the scoring, however, it challenged the zeitgeist in a way which affronted the devilishly fashionable Habs tight 5, who were decidedly pret à mêlée. Jay and the Sandersons restructured the OH attacking plan to focus on the scrum, Old Priorians probably have one of the weakest set pieces in the league, and were unceremoniously bullied from just outside their 22 to their line across a series of engagements which ended in a penalty try. The automatic conversion meant that the pack were 1 from 1 off the tee.
By this point, the contest for possession at the lineout had become a wet and windy bunfight, the referee blowing for a crooked lineout constantly. No problem for Old Habs who were now stealing the ball at scrums with regularity, the wet conditions having made a quick and easy strike very difficult. A final set piece try, with Clarky dotting down the points from 8 sealed the first half - 17-0 as we ran back to the dressing room to reorganise and thaw out our back 3.
The strong wind from the first half was now in the faces of Old Haberdashers, on a normal day it would be worth a couple of scores, however, this was not a normal day. McGhee at Full-Back and Conor on the wing were fielding the ball with ease, and returning with an appetite for the warmth of contact, while Big Tommy Jackson kicked for the corners with consistent accuracy. For 15 minutes, Old Priorians played between their line and their 10, unable to make inroads against a fired up OH defence, led by Jonny Gatus, Tommy Arnott and King Carlos at 12, making his first OH 1st XV start of the season. Eventually, a messy Lineout on the Old Priorians 22 dropped to Clarky who pegged it like a guilty schoolboy towards the line to claim the bonus point. The conversion was scored, much to the surprise and delight of the OH faithful.
More Old Habs pressure and sensible positional play kept the ball in the Old Priorians half, even as the wind continued to whistle. As the sun started to sink, Josh Downie got the ball in midfield just outside the 22, and looked up to see space. He placed it on his toe, sliding it betwixt the defenders and towards the try line. Fergus “Pixie” Pickles sped through in its wake, winning the race and touching down to score the 5th try. His first, and last touch in the game, a 100% lesson in converting which was ignored by Ian McGhee who subsequently missed another kick.
The match petered out as the ball resolutely stayed in the OPs half, ricocheting from scrum, to penalty, to lineout, to knock on and around again. The final whistle signalled a job well done by Old Habs, their control had been exemplary, as had the handling in very tricky conditions. Old Priorians would be a very difficult proposition on a dry day on a wide pitch, unluckily for them, they’ve played Old Haberdashers in the pissing rain for 160 minutes this year, with nothing to show from it.
A massive thank you to the supporters who braved the conditions, an ugly match in a way, but also a beautiful one.