Bill Wallis reports on a great game at Fenley Field
Midlands 2 West Promotion Play-off
Old Laurentians 32
Old Saltleians 23
The weather was perfect, a large crowd created a brilliant atmosphere and the result was the one that three quarters of them wanted. Old Laurentians won promotion and a place in Midlands One for next season with a fine team display against a determined and skilful Old Saltleians side who played a full part in a highly entertaining spectacle.
OLs scored first early in the game and held that lead for the whole 80 minutes. But a resolute Saltleians side kept pegging them back until OLs pulled away to create a match winning position in the final quarter. Wing Lee Hersey led the way with a hat trick of well taken tries, two set up perfectly by some great back play, the other a fine individual effort that finally broke Salts resistance.
Dan O’Brien ran the game from fly half for OLs, his touch finding making massive distances, his tactical kicking keeping Salts on the back foot for long periods, his goal kicking accurate and reliable – and he contributed a finely struck drop goal.
O’Brien’s penalty gave OLs a lead inside five minutes, followed ten minutes later by Hersey’s first try, after Salts were forced to carry over and concede a 5 metre scrum. Successive thrusts from the pack were held before the ball was released and O’Brien threw out a perfect miss pass that Hersey took at full pace to go over near the posts, O’Brien converting for a 10-0 lead.
Saltleians got one back when OLs failed to control lineout ball on Salts 22, their number 8 Dan Fentham was quickest to the loose ball and set off for OLs line. He was well supported by flanker Dean Morris who went over in the corner for the try, reducing OLs lead to 10-5.
OLs riposte was swift as they reclaimed possession from the re-start and fed O’Brien who dropped a goal from 35 metres to push the score out to 13-5 after 25 minutes. OLs almost increased their lead when another beautifully judged kick by O’Brien was gathered by the chasing players and Andy Orbinson broke for the line. He got his inside pass away for Wallis to touch down but had put a foot in touch as the cover closed in.
Ben O’Riordan was shown a yellow card after an obstruction offence and Salts pegged OLs back with a penalty by Zac Mann to leave the game finely balanced at half time with OLs 13-5 ahead.
Early in the second half, Iain Wallis carved through the Salts defence but his flighted pass to Grant Inch wasn’t easy for the winger to hold and momentum was lost. Possession was retained and the attack continued but ended near Salts line with a knock on when a try was on.
OLs forced a penalty at the resultant scrum, O’Brien dropped it into the corner for a lineout when OLs went through a well-rehearsed drill. O’Riordan claimed the throw and flipped a pass back to Dom Hammond, the hooker going down the 5 metre channel for a well taken try that increased OLs lead to 18-8.
OLs made their first change when Liam Deery made his return after injury to come on at number 8, making a real impression with his powerful carrying. He replaced Mark Todd, who had impressed with a performance of high energy for 50 minutes, with Andy Orbinson moving over to the flank.
Straight from the re-start following Hammond’s try, OLs were caught offside and Mann again reduced the deficit for his side with a well struck penalty and a score of 18-11. But OLs struck back to again put clear water between the teams after Salts possession from a lineout was turned over on their 22. A long pass from O’Brien missed out his centres and full back Jon Bean took the ball to feed Hersey on the left who scooted over for his second, O’Brien converting with a fine kick from wide out to move ahead by 25-11.
But again Saltleians refused to lie down and hit back with a try by wing Tom Burrows after a scrum deep in OLs territory, Mann converting for 25-18. During this spell OLs cover defence was tested more than once, notably by Burrows and fly half Beaty, who almost dummied his way through before the combined efforts of Hersey and Bean stopped him.
Then came the decisive try when a Salts clearance from deep failed to find touch and was fielded just inside OLs half by Hersey. Nothing was going to stop the wing as he set his sights on the line. Several Salts players tried but failed and Hersey scorched over for a fine individual try that effectively sealed the game for OLs, O’Brien’s conversion lifting the score to 32-18 with less than five minutes to play.
Several minutes into added time at the end, OLs were perhaps guilty of relaxing and Salt’s Mann took full advantage to go over in what was the final play of the game.
A great game, played in an excellent spirit by two good teams who entertained a crowd numbering close to 500 with some fine rugby. Coach Stuart Birch rated this as probably the best performance from his team this season, saying: “Although a few individuals may deservedly grab the headlines, I believe this result was down to the teamwork of the whole squad of 19 on the day. I was delighted with the way that they kicked on every time that Salts came back at us and our experience of playing at a higher level shone through, as did our experience of the big occasion”.
The game probably featured the last appearance at this level by prop Chris le Poidevin, who has indicated that work and family pressures have forced him to consider his playing future. A rock in OLs pack for the last dozen years or more, the Fenley Field faithful will miss his powerful scrummaging and his trademark barnstorming runs with the ball.