Belsize Park captain: Last season’s agony is driving us on - and we want the title
- Credit: Archant
Captain George Hazlett says Belsize Park are determined to avoid last season’s heartbreak and win the London North-West Division Three title after securing their seventh successive victory.
Ben Parker, Jeremy Burton, Rich Turner, Stewart Shaw and Miran Serdarevic all touched down as Belsize triumphed with a bonus point away against Stevenage Town on Saturday.
It took them 13 points clear of third-placed Hackney, who lost 14-7 at St Albans – and with the top two teams usually being promoted, Hazlett and his team-mates are well on course for their second promotion in three years.
The skipper admits the pain they experienced last April, when they agonisingly finished third – only behind Welywn on points difference – is a big source of motivation in the dressing room.
And, with Belsize lying just one point behind leaders London Nigerian, Hazlett is not content to stay in the runners-up spot.
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“The guys who have been in the team for two or three years know how it’s felt - we’ve been promoted in second position and then missed out because we dropped a couple of games,” he told Ham&High Sport. “We know what that’s felt like and hopefully the other guys are picking up on that.
“This is the highest the club’s ever been and, if we do get promoted, to be able to say we’ve gone up two leagues in the space of three seasons would feel really good. We are using it as motivation in the sense that we don’t want it to happen again.
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“We’re not looking to finish second. It’s the first thing we said at the start of the season: we want to win the league.
“We were thinking we could go up in second place last year and, low and behold, it didn’t happen - we slipped to third and we’re still here.
“The season before that we went up in second place [in Herts/Middlesex Division One] so I just want to be able to say that we’ve gone up to another league and been promoted by winning the other league. We haven’t done that yet.
“Yes, there are two teams out in front but no-one likes finishing second - we want to go on and win it.”
Hazlett feels Belsize are better equipped to maintain their momentum and make the step up this campaign.
“The first game after Christmas was crucial for us,” he said. “Historically, for Belsize Park, it’s been a game that we haven’t played very well in. People are still away or they’ve had some beers over Christmas or whatever the reason is.
“But we managed to pull through that one, get a win and I think that just reinforces how this season’s different.
“We’ve implemented a structure that was quick for us to pick up and effective, on top of what was already a good style of play.
“We were very good in the open, very good with the ball in the hand, probably not so good on the nasty days when things were a bit slow.
“We’ve put something in place to get us out of those situations and get us back to playing the type of rugby that would win us games, and it’s been proved, especially with our defence. There’s only been 129 points scored against us in the whole season so that’s not bad across 13 games.
“It’s been about being able to defend well for 80 minutes. I don’t think it’s come down to us being fitter than we have been, it’s probably a mentality that ‘how we start the game is how we’re going to finish the game’.
“Often the second half has not been as strong, but that isn’t the case any more. It’s a matter of our tempo. We might have started a game not as quickly as we want but then get stuck into it in the middle part and then often tail off at the end, and that’s when you leak tries.
“There’s been a change in our mindset now and our blitz defence has been good. I just think, all-round, people’s attitudes towards it has been ‘we are doing this for the entire game’.”
Belsize Park actually conceded the opening try against Stevenage on Saturday but Hazlett has no complaints about his team’s focus in that instance.
“The reason we went behind at the start is because I threw an intercepted pass and they ran 80 yards to score,” he said. “It was completely against the run of play and it made me look like a complete idiot. I threw a dodgy pass and I’ve reminded myself not to do that again any time soon.”
Belsize host Grasshoppers this weekend, having narrowly won the previous fixture 33-29 in October, and Hazlett said: “We’ve been playing Grasshoppers for the last two or three seasons and I don’t think there’s ever been a game where there’s more than four points in it at the end, and quite often we’re behind early on.
“They’re a good side, they’re well drilled and they play similar rugby to us. They’ve got pretty big forwards that run hard so we know what they’re about, but the scorelines over the past 24 months would suggest they’re not easy. They’re very tough but we always enjoy playing those guys.”
Belsize will go on to visit third-placed Hackney in their following fixture on January 30, while they are scheduled to visit leaders London Nigerian – one of only two teams to have beaten them in the league this season – in their final game in April.
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t picked up on when that game is, and part of me thinks it might come down to that,” said Hazlett. “Hopefully we can just keep putting the hard work in and not slip up until then. Whatever happens, it’s going to make for a great end-of-year game.”