Hampstead coach pleased to see immediate improvements after opening-day victory
- Credit: Archant
Hampstead’s head coach was delighted to see his side showing both mental and physical improvements as they overcame a late setback to secure an opening-day victory.
Peter Breen feared he was observing an agonising case of déjà vu as his team saw a slender lead overturned in the closing stages at Enfield, just like in the corresponding fixture last season, when they shipped 10 points in the final two minutes and lost 26-17.
On Saturday, captain Andy McEwen’s powerful score on the half-hour mark gave Hampstead a 5-0 lead, which was still intact as the clock ticked past 70 minutes – but history seemed to be repeating itself as Ignatians turned the tables with a late converted try.
This time Hampstead rallied, though – and Dan Dimoline kicked two penalties under pressure to get his team off to a winning start.
“This is a game we would have lost last year,” Breen told Ham&High Sport. “We suffer from holidays and very rarely win our opening game –and having taken a 5-0 lead, we lost it with eight minutes to go.
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“That happened to us four times last season, including there at Enfield – we shipped 10 points in the last two minutes. Enfield knew that and that’s what they were saying to each other – ‘they’ll crack, they’ll crack’. That was the feeling in the team, that we’d done it again.
“Then we kind of played to our strengths and did something which is rare for us and that’s to win it in the last five minutes, having lost it.”
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Breen continued: “A couple of the results last year hurt us so much. Our will to win was so great on Saturday – I think the consequences of four narrow losses last year have made us more resilient, not weaker.
“We’ve had enough of it and we’re going to be a little bit more clinical. We’re not going to pass balls around in conditions that don’t suit it.
“We love to play running rugby and the conditions were awful. It was like playing in the middle of February – driving wind and rain. Our line-out malfunctioned, our scrum malfunctioned, and our tactics… Let’s just say the players didn’t listen to what I asked them to do, and that meant it was really tight.
“It was a scrappy performance, we didn’t play well and we came away with a win so we’re delighted.
“This team’s coming to its peak and that doesn’t last long. I’ve been with them for three years, the captain’s in his third year and it doesn’t last forever – they want their most successful season.”
Breen named Fran Fonagy as the man of the match, adding that the prop “looks like he’s going to be player of the season” – and he believes his team is looking much more muscular in general.
“With the weightlifting programme we’ve been on during the summer, there’s been a massive increase in strength,” he said. “Some players have put on between five and 12 kilos.
“We saw in the warm-up games that we’ve got more strength and we’re more equipped for a winter sport.
“We often train for a summer sport but that leaves us in October, so we’ve geared ourselves up more for that, and we’ve recruited well in the front row.”
Breen hopes he will soon be supplementing his first-team squad with graduates from the club’s popular youth section – and there are high hopes for winger Clem Quaicoe, who played for the second team at the weekend and turns 18 next week, making him eligible for the seniors.
Meanwhile, Hampstead have been forging links with local schools and the London School of Economics – Breen coaches the first team and Fonagy is taking charge of the second XV.
“I teach in three schools and the university, and some of the players at the university are playing for the club and teaching in the schools with me,” said Breen.
“It’s a web we’ve been weaving for about four years now, and our junior section is second to none in London. [Chairman] Simon Taylor’s work needs to be mentioned – they have 250 youngsters there now.
“If any local business would like to assist and add their name and/or expertise to the project then they should contact me via our website.
“It is absolutely vital for projects like these to succeed, otherwise most inner-city children would never get the opportunity to learn and fall in love with the game.”
Meanwhile, new signing Souka Trouiller scored four tries as Hampstead Ladies secured their first win of the season at the second attempt, with a bonus point.
The French recruit ran in a first-half hat-trick away against Romford & Gidea Park, while her fellow winger Zelda also touched down twice as the visitors entered the interval with a 27-5 lead.
Romford were stronger in the second half and crossed the whitewash three times – but Trouiller score another herself and forwards Lizzie Wallace and Kiki Oyemhen also got their names on the scoresheet to complete a comprehensive victory.
Hampstead’s brand new second team had not even trained together when they played their first match against Cuffley, and they went down 79-0 in an 11-a-side clash.