Harpenden 14 – Chiswick 14
Last time Chiswick played Harpenden with snow on the pitch, the match was abandoned at half-time, with the score 0-0. This time the half-time score was again 0-0, but the sun was out, the snow had melted, and an epic encounter between the second and the third in the League ended with honours even.
Three minutes from the start, the first penalty of many went Harpenden’s way, and their No.13 had a decent stab ( can there be such a thing? ) at converting from the half-way line. No joy, however. Soon it became clear that both teams were strong in defence, that the conditions favoured forward play, and there was little between the teams. Harpenden, with a slight tail wind, had an early territorial advantage, but they soon learned that long kicks, the first well-fielded by George Dimitriadis on his welcome return, were dangerous, allowing Joe Grindle room to wrong-foot a queue of would-be tacklers.
The Chiswick forwards soon showed their mauling ability, gaining good yards, but when Chiswick gained a penalty after the maul was stopped, Simon Hallett’s attempted touch kick drifted into the in-goal area. Fifteen minutes in, Harpenden had a sustained period in the Chiswick 22, with their forwards hammering away at the visitors’ defence. Fantastic Chiswick tackling just kept them at bay, however, in the final couple of metres, and after a good five minutes a knock-on finally gave Chiswick a scrum. Luca Vannini found a good touch, and the siege was relieved.
The work rate of the Chiswick forwards was great, exemplified by the marauding Jon Joyce, although on this occasion it was the tackling, particularly of Sam Leslie-Miller, James Dibble and Rikki Darroch which caught the eye. There were no weak links for the opposition to pick on, and as the half wore on, Chiswick established territorial parity. With little room to move, the backs occasionally had half a chance due to the ball bouncing oddly, and Tom Steer almost benefitted from one such opportunity. A chip kick by Grindle nearly caused disaster for Chiswick but the sprinting home back just knocked on. Chiswick ended the half on top.
The second half started with a beautifully-controlled driving maul by Chiswick, from the 22 to a metre from the home line. When the ball came out, however, the backs could not complete the job. At the next lineout, Joyce took the catch, and the forwards surged over from a few metres, with the hard-working Mike Fatsis getting a popular touch-down. Hallett’s kick was like the perfect pole vault, clearing the bar by inches on its way down. Chiswick immediately gave three points back by going offside in front of the posts, but now seemed to have a slight edge over their opponents. Jannie Joubert came on, and the pack nearly scored after great pressure, but Harpenden, defending desperately, were saved by a knock-on.
There was no mistake when Chiswick next attacked, following the only heel against the head of the match, five metres from the home line, and after Darroch had twice got feet from the line, it was the fresh clean-shirted Joubert who sailed over for the touch-down. Hallett produced another excellent kick, and Chiswick were momentarily on top. Fatsis did well to keep his eye on the kick-off ball, and gain possession as Harpenden players rushed past him, but Chiswick then lost the ball, and a quick switch open and to the right gave the fast Harpenden wing room to swerve around the defender and score in the corner. The try was not converted, but Harpenden gained the confidence to launch a sustained period of attack, and they brought the scores level finally with two good penalty kicks. During this period, Grindle made the perfect interception and looked to have a good chance to score, only to be brought back as apparently the referee was playing an offside advantage to the home team. In the final minutes, Chiswick declined a penalty goal option and went for the lineout and maul, but a technical infringement prevented a score.
Chiswick team :- Dean, Dibble, Tonkin, Joyce, Fatsis, Cooper, Leslie-Miller, Darroch, Vannini, Hallett, Steer, Gibson, Sutherland, Dimitriadis, Grindle, Joubert, Morris, Lowe