UCS Old Boys build momentum with second successive victory
15:58 27 January 2014
UCS Old Boys built on their first victory of the campaign by recording their second successive triumph on Saturday, overcoming Hemel Hempstead 20-17 in London North-West Division Two.
The Old Boys lost their first 13 league games of the season, while also having 10 points deducted for accidentally fielding an unregistered player - but they have shown their spirit with back-to-back victories over the teams who sit directly above and below them.
Having won 29-15 away at London Nigerian last weekend, UCS were due to face Hemel on home turf – but the match was switched to their opponents’ ground due to a waterlogged pitch.
That left the Old Boys effectively playing away, on the same pitch where they had devastatingly lost 41-38 in the reverse fixture in October – but Damir Jovanovic, Henry Walton and Tom Bamford all touched down, while Alex Lowe kicked five points to gain revenge.
The coaches’ focus in the build-up was on replicating the game plan that had proved so successful in the win against London Nigerian – driving through the opposition forwards in the scrum and around the fringes of the breakdown, before challenging the midfield defence with strong runners and decoys.
The UCS forwards answered this rallying call, and captain James Boyde turned the first scrum against the head and made good ground in the early minutes.
After strong forward surges, Dave O’Dwyer held the fringe defence with what appeared to be one of his trademark snipes before pulling a reverse ball back to the onrushing Jovanovic, who powered over from five yards, while Lowe added the conversion.
UCS kept coming, using the slope and the wind to their advantage and pummelling Hemel through the forwards. The line-out was struggling but all other areas of the Old Boys’ game were functioning well - especially the scrum, where Hemel could not live with the power of the visitors’ tight five.
Lowe missed a penalty from 35 metres, but UCS soon scored their second try, edging toward the Hemel line with a scrum before No8 Walton exploded from the base and powered through the home side’s fly-half to touch down.
Jovanovic, Ahmed Ghanem, James May, Boyde, Phil Trotter, Dave Myers and Rollo-Walker also carried strongly throughout the half to provide a firm platform.
Other highlights included a break from Tom McAviney down the left and consistently solid play from Bamford, whose expert kicking game from full-back kept Hemel pegged back in their own half.
Unfortunately, UCS were unable to repel strong surges from their hosts in the final 10 minutes of the first period and, despite good defensive work from the scrambling back line, Hemel’s inside centre was able to break through and cross the whitewash.
Buoyed by their score, Hempstead started the second half strongly and soon added a second try via their fly-half, which was converted to level the scores at 12-12.
It seemed that UCS’s good work had been undone and, with the prospect of playing the remaining 35 minutes or so uphill and into the strengthening wind and rain, it would have been easy for them to fold.
However, despite a few nervy moments as Lowe struggled to clear due to the strength of the wind, a switch back to the earlier tactics of keeping the ball in hand and driving through the Hemel forwards began to pay dividends.
The Old Boys’ pack began to really get on top and, as a result, the hosts lost a man to the sin-bin for infringements at the ruck. With the man advantage, UCS made their way upfield and won a central penalty, which Lowe converted to restore the lead.
From this point onwards, a combination of strong defence and power in the contact area led to the unravelling of the Hemel team.
The constant pressure applied led to a further two yellow cards for Hempstead and a stream of abuse aimed at the referee, who consequently marched UCS penalties forward on several occasions.
On the other hand, UCS kept their discipline, despite coming under pressure and having the worse of the conditions - and this was probably decisive.
Tom Loughnan looked to have sealed the win when he cut in off his right wing and forced his way over the line, but the ball was dislodged by the tacklers as he tried to dot down.
It did not matter because the win was secured soon afterwards as Bamford released Loughnan, who kicked through for Bamford to run onto and touch down.
There was time for one further twist as the kick-off provided Hemel with the field position to stage a final attack, and they eventually crossed the line to make the final score 20-17, securing a losing bonus point which UCS should not have allowed them to have.
Nevertheless, the Old Boys should be proud of their efforts after two very strong team performances in a row.
UCS Old Boys: Myers, Ghanem, Watson-Cowan; Boyde, May; Jovanovic, Trotter, Walton; O’Dwyer, Lowe; Sleath, Rollo-Walker; McAviney, Loughnan, Bamford. Subs: Ancock, Zabci, Oulton.