Result:- Harpenden 15 Chiswick 19
Both teams suffered an early team change just before battle commenced. For Chiswick this meant scrum-half Sean Roberts making his debut at the expense of hamstrung Gabs Lowe. This was a baptism of fire given the crucial nature of this game, with Chiswick having to win to stay in with any chance of promotion. Harpenden in turn lost a prop.
Early penalties went Harpenden’s way, as Chiswick strove to restrict any forward momentum by the strong, competent home team. The first maul set up by Harpenden on the Chiswick 22 was inconclusive, but Chiswick came in at the side of the ensuing ruck in front of the posts and conceded three points. The home kicker was unambitious with his line kicks, luckily for Chiswick as they continued to fall foul of the referee. Chiswick did well in running the ball out of defence and when they lost the ball, Max Burrows got it back with a typical interception. The home defence was equally strong, and after a period of slow progress, half-way through the half, they gained another penalty in the Chiswick 22, and opted, perhaps surprisingly, for another three points.
In turn, when Chiswick could have gone for goal, Oliver Snook’s accurate penalty kick gave them a five metre lineout. James Dibble found Rich Bryan with a good throw. Chiswick attempted a maul, and then Burrows, Tom Gadsby and Ryno Lopes in turn hurled themselves at the home wall to little effect, before the ball was knocked on. Harpenden came back hard and pinned Chiswick in their 22 for some time before an attempted long pass out by Snook to the wing, in a little space, was adjudged forward. From the following scrum, Harpenden got very close to scoring before being penalised. They kept up the pressure, and with Chiswick pushed back after querying a refereeing decision got a simple kick in front of the posts to go further ahead after half an hour.
Snook’s kick-off amusingly bounced off a home head, and Chiswick luckily gained possession only a couple of metres from the home line. Marc Copperwheat and Gadsby and then Sam Leslie-Miller all had a lunge towards the line, followed by several others, including Dibble. At one stage the ball went loose, and Roberts did a remarkable dive and roll to rescue it. Eventually it was James Bunbury who broke a tackle and shot towards the corner before getting the ball out to full back George Bibby, who put wing Adam Churton in to score. The kick proved too difficult for Snook, but the gap was now small, and it was all Chiswick in the ten minutes up to the whistle.
Early pressure by Harpenden saw them almost on the Chiswick goal line before the ball was turned over and Snook got in a good kick. At the other end, a confused passage of play with several turn-overs preceded a kick along the ground into the home 22, and a Chiswick five metre scrum. Harpenden were suddenly yellow-carded down to fourteen, and some good lineout work allowed Chiswick to attempt a maul for the line. Harpenden resisted successfully, however and got a scrum. Working their way back, after 15 minutes Harpenden kicked another easy penalty goal with Chiswick offside. They then had a long break down the right wing, requiring some splendid defence by Chiswick to prevent a backing-up player from scoring. Chiswick were now yellow-carded down to fourteen and their cause seemed to be ebbing away. Coach Andy Barrington referred afterwards to his team’s “sheer bloody-mindedness”, and indeed there was no letting up by his players, with physio Anya managing to keep every injured player on the pitch, and subs Simon Allen-Clarke and Alex Randall being used to good effect.
Harpenden got another three points in this period, but could not breach the outstanding Chiswick defence. Chiswick now retained possession for a long period, with the front row brigade of Matt Cooper, Dibble and Stu Parmeter working overtime and Snook controlling the play and probing the home defence. It was quick thinking, however that got Chiswick the next vital score, that scourge of oppositions Lopes picking up a loose ball in the home 22 and weaving a forceful path to the line and then round behind the posts, Snook converting. Only three points in it. Harpenden’s kicker now pulled a long penalty goal attempt just wide of the posts.
Well into injury time, Snook’s penalty kick gave Chiswick a lineout about ten metres from the home line. Dibble’s throw and Copperwheat’s take were exemplary. Harpenden applied extreme pressure as Chiswick tried to organise the maul, but the visitors moved inexorably towards the posts. Leslie-Miller had an unsuccessful lunge, but the ball was passed out along the line, and it was Snook who was injured but got the touch-down. Bibby added the points. The referee then allowed Harpenden one more, nearly successful, attack in a nail-biting finale before whistling for time.
Chiswick team:- Cooper, Dibble, Parmeter, Bryan, Copperwheat, Gadsby, Lopes, Leslie-Miller, Roberts, Snook, Steer, Burrows, Bunbury, Churton, Bibby; Allen-Clarke, Lowe, Randall