OAs Thaw Out to See Off Stubborn Letchworth
This fixture is always one which OAs look forward to as it has always presented a test of their mettle against a side littered with Saracens Academy players. Last year’s match was a tetchy encounter with OAs running out easy winners in the end and Letchworth wanted to ensure they gave a good account of themselves this time around. OAs had lost a couple of players to injury and unavailability but were able to call on the excellent B team players who are currently enjoying a fine early season.The morning was miserable. Cold and damp with a pitch which whilst in excellent condition as you would expect for OAs’ 1st XV, was still a difficult surface. Nevertheless, the width of this pitch should have played in to OAs’ hands with real speed being available in the backs.
The game began and rustiness through a lack of games was in evidence as OAs knocked on from the kick off. They never really recovered from that error and when Letchworth drew in the full back, a chip over the top was a clever play and the backs came second in the foot race to the line. 0-5.
The rest of the half belonged to OAs and what a pig’s ear they made of it. The game could generously be described as stop start with the emphasis on Stop and little sign of start. Frustrating to watch and equally frustrating to play. To say the game lacked momentum, rhythm and flow fails to describe how dull it was. OAs fell victim to poor decision making, uncharacteristic handling errors and Lilliputian passing. The forwards dominated play but when the line beckoned decided to batter against the Letchworth brick wall rather then release the backs. Words were clearly had on the field and finally in what was probably the best try of the game, the ball went through the hands of nearly all the backs for Ollie J to score in the corner. 5-5.
Rather than this spurring OAs onwards, it was back to the grind. A penalty went OAs’ way and Tom L correctly decided a lead was better than nothing and it was 8-5. It would be a kindness to describe the efforts of both sides as industrious but laborious is probably more accurate. Half time could not come soon enough for everyone.
The decision to retreat to the changing room was the right one as there are times when words need to be said and the delicacy of the message is not required.
The second half had to be an improvement and so it proved to be. The forwards began to really impress in the breakdown and in the loose. The ball carrying of all of them was top notch and the interchanges from the bench kept up that continuity. But ball carrying is only as good as the support in the ruck and this is what made the difference. Finally, OAs had quick ball and across the line it went with Charlie feeding Will to run in a try tight to the line and ensuring an easy conversion for Tom L 15-5. The forwards mugged the Letchworth ball carriers and whilst they may have been strong and powerful, they cannot plough through three or four tacklers and often lost the ball in the collision. With the backs stifling the line when Letchworth did attack, this took its toll on a talented but rapidly tiring Letchworth team. As the game opened up, some good exchanges across the park released Harry to back himself in the corner. 20-5.
From here on in it was all OAs with Letchworth only getting into the OAs 22 on one occasion only to find the ball being run out from the goal line back to half way. The OAs forwards reverted to pick and go and with Letchworth increasingly wary of the OAs’ backs, the pressure on their forwards’ defence was immense. Their resistance was finally broken and Ryan went over from close. Tom W added the extras with a kick resembling a golf shot draw 27-5.
Bonus point secured OAs then ripped to shreds the brave Letchworth defenders. Harry chipped through and despite being blocked and pulled back, the grubber had enough on it for Jensen to touch down. 32-5. Tom W’s draw had never developed into a hook and fell wide of its mark.
The final try in the last minute of the game fell to Captain Matt and was a fitting finish to superb forwards work. Ollie DP stepped up to kick the conversion as the scoring concluded at 39-5.
Given the conditions and the lack of game play, this was a good solid performance by all the team proving once more that this side have a strength in depth to compensate for any absences. Trust is crucial and this side has a deep respect for each other, an appreciation of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and a willingness to support one another when it does not go exactly to plan.
OAs go into hibernation over the Christmas period and this was not a bad present they gave to their many and vociferous supporters on the balcony.
Just leaves me to wish all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year when OAs once again renew their challenge for back to back league titles with the County Cup just around the corner.