Belsize Park face anxious wait after defeat in pivotal title showdown
- Credit: Archant
Belsize Park face an anxious wait to discover whether they will be promoted after losing their pivotal top-of-the-table clash 25-17 at Hackney in Herts/Middlesex Division One on Saturday.
League leaders Belsize held a seven-point lead over their rivals going into the title decider – which was their last match of the season – and they needed a draw to ensure that they could not be caught by Hackney, who have a game in hand against Cheshunt this weekend.
However, Hackney captain Alex O’Hara led his side into a 22-0 half-time lead and, although BP battled back with tries from Richard Wilson and Charlie Oakes, who also kicked both conversions and a penalty, they could not get back on level terms.
That means that Hackney, who have won their last 17 league games, can steal the title with their extra game on Saturday and Belsize could miss out on promotion, despite winning 19 of their 22 games – including a club record 14-match winning streak.
Second place is usually enough but it is not a certainty and depends on how the leagues above are restructured at the end of the season.
BP captain Tom House said: “We’re really disappointed with this result but we did our best. The support was incredible - at times we couldn’t hear the line-out call because our fans were so loud, so it was a huge shame not to give them what they had come to see.
“In the first half we were too narrow in defence and we were outplayed in the loose. In the second we were excellent and played the best rugby we have put together all year.
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“I just hope that two teams go up or we will feel as though we’ve not done ourselves justice at all. The point at which we lost the season was in the ill-tempered game at Verulamians when we lost against the odds [8-3 on March 1].
“We’re really looking forward to a 50-man tour to Portugal and then kicking off pre-season in July in Regent’s Park. Hopefully there will be a new league to prepare for.
“Massive thanks must go to the coaches and the support within the club from the administration side. Those guys don’t get any credit but without them we’d have no rugby at all.”
Belsize’s clash against Hackney was the last game for James Berry, a long-serving player who captained the first XV when they were last promoted three seasons ago.
While BP’s first team suffered a disappointing final result, there was joy for the club’s second and third teams as they both won their grand finals to win promotion in their respective merit leagues.
Belsize’s second string faced HAC in the Middlesex Merit League Division One final, and Ed Bonnell made a crucial defensive contribution, winning a turn-over before BP took the lead with a penalty kick.
Winger Jessie Stewart then touched down in the corner to give Park an 8-0 half-time lead, but they allowed their opponents back into the game and needed some more resolute defending from Frenchman Arnaud Couffin on the five-metre line.
The pressure was eventually eased though, and some prodigious kicking from Rob Hooper took them up the field before No8 Greg Simkins set off on a terrific run from a line-out and scored in the corner.
Simkins was then shown a yellow card for repeated infringements, but BP held firm, with Rob Mazur marshalling the backs and the pack holding its own with a seven-man scrum – and the final whistle signalled that Belsize had won the division.
Park’s third team, the Bulls, were also facing their date with destiny in Middlesex Merit League Division Five as they sought to complete an unbeaten season and secure a second successive promotion.
They got off to the perfect start against London French, charging down a kick to score a try inside two minutes, but they then had to defend their line for the next 10 minutes.
The repeated and fruitless attempts to break through left the French tired, and Belsize moved onto the front foot, with the forwards punching holes and the backs finishing off the moves.
A sizeable gap began to open and, with the French resistance broken, the tries kept coming, with Irishman David Devlin scoring the pick of the bunch, while Alistair McWilliams, Ben Barter, Lewis Fox-James and Ben Chipperfield also got onto the scoresheet.
BP eventually ran out 42-3 winners, with prop Kuldip Khella taking the man of the match award.