Hampstead coach hails captain Andy McEwen’s central role in club’s transformation

Hampstead captain Andy McEwen. Picture: Paolo Minoli

Hampstead captain Andy McEwen. Picture: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Hampstead head coach Peter Breen says the courage, leadership and loyalty of captain Andy McEwen has been a central part of Hampstead’s turnaround in the last two and half years.

Hampstead only won three of their 22 league games in London Division Two North West the 2013-14 season, but they start 2017 lying second in the table, four points off the top, after winning 11 of their 13 fixtures.

McEwen, who will give up his armband at the end of this campaign, scored the opening try in Saturday’s 21-7 home win over Tabard – and Breen says that contribution was typical of a player who has always led by example.

“This club’s turned itself around and, on the pitch, it’s been built around one man more than anyone else,” Breen told Ham&High Sport.

“He’s like those people in the fire brigade that always go in first. I’ve been at this level of sport, or higher, for over 35 years and he’s physically as hard, or harder, than anybody I’ve played with or coached.

“When we’re in trouble and we need to get down their end of the pitch he will take us down there. He’ll put it on his shoulders to make hard runs into really heavy tacklers and just keep going.

“He leads on the field, and off the field he’s galvanised the players - the whole club actually, bringing the men’s and women’s sections together. He’s been instrumental in creating a great group that looks after each other.

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“He’s played at a higher level than this - I think he played in National League One when he was younger - but he’s got a really senior job at work and it meant he couldn’t take his rugby quite as seriously.

“Looking at the last three and a half seasons, we’ve had about 55 games and I think he’s been man of the match 15 times – and sometimes he’s man of the match and I just don’t give it to him!

“Our relationship as coach and captain is we hardly talk at all. There’s no need for us to talk about anything, we just nod and get on with it, and he’s fantastic to be around.”

Breen continued: “The year the club only won three games he wasn’t the captain but he became the de facto captain.

“Andy kind of took over then and I used to say to him ‘why didn’t you leave? You turned up and it was rubbish!’ And he said ‘I don’t know, I just thought I’d be loyal’.

“We now don’t depend on him as much on the pitch, and it’s because we built the team around him. He knows I feel that about him but I don’t say it very often.

“A key factor, or the key factor on the pitch, has been Andy’s performances, Andy’s captaincy. There’s an element of ‘this is really hard and I’m going - are you coming with me?’ He doesn’t tell them to do stuff that he won’t do. He’s already done it.”

Hampstead took control in the first half against Tabard on Saturday and scored three tries in a 10-minute spell.

New fly-half Ed Doe off-loaded out of the back of his hand to McEwen, who went over the line, and Tom Jordan then crossed the whitewash before Doe gathered a Tabard kick and ran 70m to touch down.

Doe also kicked all three conversions to leave Hampstead 21-0 up – but the rest of the match was hugely frustrating as they failed to secure a fourth try, allowing Old Haberdashers to extend their lead to four points at the top.

“Tabard had nothing to play for except to stop us getting a bonus point, and they just put their bodies on the line for 40 minutes,” said Breen. “Credit to them.

“It was a real credit to the people that play the game that they just wouldn’t give it to us, they wouldn’t roll over.”

Meanwhile, Belsize Park started 2017 by completing the double over London Nigerian, gaining revenge after losing both of their clashes with the same team last season.

Fourth-placed BP lost to each of the top three teams in succession before Christmas. But they started the new year with renewed vigour and tries from Jamie Niven, James Russell and Mark Liebling, followed by a Jeremy Burton penalty, secured a 20-12 victory on the road.

Director of rugby Zach Webb said: “That was a much-needed win to focus the minds. All eyes are now on our next game only and we expect a win from ourselves.”