Belsize Park suffer surprise setback as winning run is halted
19:06 03 March 2014
Belsize Park’s charge towards promotion suffered a surprise setback on Saturday as they were beaten for the first time in 15 games away at Verulamians.
BP had won 14 consecutive games in Herts/Middlesex Division One, with their previous defeat coming back in September – and that had left them on course for the title.
However, their winning run finally came to an end as they were beaten 8-3 by midtable side Verulamians in St Albans.
Richard Wilson scored an early penalty and BP led 3-0 at half-time, but they conceded a penalty and a try in a frustrating second half to endure the rare experience of ending up as the losing side.
That enabled promotion rivals Kilburn Cosmos to close the gap, while Hackney are just six points behind with a game in hand.
Belsize captain Tom House said: “It was very disappointing to come crashing down to earth. Perhaps it’s the kick up the backside that we need because now this league is ours to win rather than ours to lose.”
On a sunny, fresh afternoon Belsize failed to find their footing on the wet, narrow pitch. They started well with good pressure coming from the kick-off but Verulamians showed their intent to play rugby by running it at every opportunity.
Belsize initially made good use of their dominance in the scrum but were unable to capitalise due to some sloppy ball control and some vigorous defence from the home side.
Wilson’s successful penalty kick put the wind in the Belsize sails, but the game soon went flat with long breaks between passages of play, wet conditions and big defending from both sides sapping the energy out of the visitors.
A sustained period of pressure on the Belsize line came to nothing thanks to some typically fierce hits from the back row - and this would normally have lifted the visitors. However, the only outcome was that skipper House went off after being knocked out at the bottom of a collapsed maul.
The industrious Nathan Thoday replaced him but the score remained 3-0 at half time, leaving Belsize to play up the slope for the second period.
It proved to be a frustrating affair for both sides as they struggled to put phases together. Poor discipline meant the match disintegrated at times and, with persistent offences not being punished, there was little incentive for the home side to change their ways.
Belsize consistently looked to attack from deep and Chris Perkins was hungry to use his obscene pace out wide, but the final pass never quite came.
A Verulamians penalty levelled the scores after 50 minutes and, despite some big defence from BP centres Guy Parker and Arnaud Couffin, the barrage continued and a couple of missed tackles permitted the home side’s sizeable No12 to go in under the posts.
With only 10 minutes remaining and the returning Olly Budd in the sin-bin, Belsize had it all to do. They had done it before and Fred House, who had taken the armband, urged his side on with some stirring words – but the visitors were unable to turn the game around in the closing stages.
Tom House added: “We simply didn’t do the basics well enough. It’s on third and fourth-phase ball that our superior fitness and speed has allowed us to really put other sides under pressure this season, and this time second-phase ball was a luxury.”
While BP’s first XV had a day to forget, the second team earned a magnificent 74-5 victory over Rosslyn Park, taking them from fourth place up to second in Middlesex Merit League One.
Belsize started the game at a rapid pace and, thanks to some aggressive ball carrying from the back row, they soon had three tries on the board.
A touch of complacency set in, allowing Rosslyn Park to score a soft try, but the half-time team talk had the desired effect and Peter Galka’s tackle from the restart forced one of the Park players to leave the field.
With the forwards in the ascendancy, the backs were finding plenty of holes and the tries started to flow.
New centre signing John Correlis touched down twice, and both players and spectators shuddered at some of the defensive hits that John Tuitui was offering in the back row.
Tom Clenaghan and Edward Bonnell also wreaked havoc after coming off the bench, more than playing their part in a highly impressive victory.