Breen: Hampstead are discovering the challenges of being title contenders

Hampstead head coach Peter Breen. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Hampstead head coach Peter Breen. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Hampstead’s head coach Peter Breen says his side are discovering the challenges of being title contenders after they came from behind to win 29-11 at Tabard and moved up to second place in London North-West Division Two.

Rob Goode scored two first-half tries for Hampstead. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Rob Goode scored two first-half tries for Hampstead. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

The visitors took the lead with a Dan Dimoline penalty but Tabard scored the first try and extended the lead with a penalty.

Rob Goode then crossed the whitewash twice to give Breen’s side a 15-8 lead at half-time, but the hosts responded with a penalty and were only four points behind with 10 minutes to go – at which point captain Andy McEwen and Will Pettit crossed the whitewash to secure the victory and a bonus point.

It was Hampstead’s third league win in a row and their seventh from 10 matches overall, taking them above Fullerians into second spot, while they lie just three points off the top.

Breen felt his side deserved their latest triumph but he feels they are discovering the pressure that comes with their lofty position and ambitions.

“It was a very competitive game,” he told Ham&High Sport. “Last year we played a great off-loading game against Tabard but they knew how to cancel that out so we had to try to find a different way to win.

“Maybe the tension of trying to win the league is inhibiting us a little bit. There’s a little bit of tension coming into our game, whereas they were free to throw it about.

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“We were losing for most of the first half and it looked like one of those afternoons that could go really pear-shaped before we got the two tries in the last 10 minutes.

“But it would have been really unfair if we hadn’t won. We applied a lot of pressure and I think it was a fair result.

“This is what it’s like when you’re trying to win the league. We won at Woodford [56-14] recently and you can’t think ‘that’s how we play in every game and every game is brilliant’. I’ve had promotions and it just doesn’t happen like that. There’s sort of a tension, you go up and down the whole time.

“This was one of those performances and it was down, but we have to remember we came away to Tabard, we beat them away for the first time in our club’s history and we got a five-point win, so as bad days go you would take that.”

Breen added: “We’ve got to learn to cope with this. It’s unique for a lot of the players to be in a situation where you not only have to win to have a chance of winning the league but you also really have to pick up five points all the time, and it creates difficulties.”

Goode’s first-half brace was key and Breen said: “I moved him from second row to No6. He played in the second row for Bath University’s first team a few years back but he’s so athletic and skilful, so he’s gone to No6 and he’s really loving it. He’s impossible to stop from five metres out and they were two very physical tries.”

Hampstead have one game left in 2015 and it is a tough one, at home against Hammersmith & Fulham, who are sitting one place and one point behind them, having beaten another title rival, Fullerians, in their latest outing.

“They’ve always been a problem since I’ve been here, they’ve been extremely good,” said Breen. “We’ve also lost most of our Celtic players – we’ve lost Dan Wigley, Rob Goode, Dave MacDonald, Craig Harper and Dermot Murphy.

“They’ve all gone home [for Christmas] and they’re all good players, so this will be a test of our strength in depth, which we think is good, but it’s going to have to be on Saturday – which is also my birthday!”

Meanwhile, there was more success off the field on Saturday night as Hampstead held their annual Charity Pub Carol Crawl.

Having sung their way round the many pubs of Hampstead, the club raised £500 for the Brain Cancer Charity in honour of ex-club chairman, Neal Challice, who passed away earlier in the season.