Hampstead coach: We have little margin for error in the title race now

Hampstead (left) battle for the ball in the scrum in the picturesque setting of the Honourable Artil

Hampstead (left) battle for the ball in the scrum in the picturesque setting of the Honourable Artillery Company grounds. Picture: Paolo Minoli

Head coach Peter Breen says Hampstead now have little margin for error in the title race after losing against promotion rivals HAC – but he believes there could still be a number of twists and turns in the remaining seven games.

Hampstead sat top of the London North West Division Two table as they headed to the picturesque Honourable Artillery Company grounds on Saturday, but they went down 19-9 and dropped to third place, being overtaken by their impressive hosts as well as Old Haberdashers.

“I thought they were the best team we’ve played and I think they’ll win the league,” Breen told Ham&High Sport. “We now have to get 33 points out of 35.

“We haven’t been as good against the top three teams as HAC have – we’ve lost three and won one. But a game ago we were top of the league, so what it’s proven is we’ve been doing better against the other teams.

“I think HAC are a better team but they always have a loss in them. It’s quite weird – they lost against Harrow before Christmas. There’s every possibility that someone’s going to lose a game or two – it’s just we can’t afford to be the team that does it.

“If we’d won the game we wouldn’t have thought we’d won the league, but we would have known we could get away with a loss. Now we can’t.

“Even when they weren’t the top side in the league HAC were the hardest tacklers. It’s fantastic to be part of, it’s just a shame we couldn’t edge it.”

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Hampstead started brightly on Saturday and took a 3-0 lead through Ed Doe’s boot, but they then conceded a converted try – the only one of the game – as HAC struck from a well-rehearsed and executed penalty, chipping the ball over the top.

Two further penalties left Hampstead 13-3 down at the break and, although Doe narrowed the gap to 13-9, the home side pulled away again with two clinical 40m penalties.

“It was pretty fierce, it was a harder game than I’ve ever seen at this level,” said Breen. “The referee and the assessor said they were amazed that this was Level Seven standard, because it was so good and so hard.

“It was a battle around the halfway line of the best two defences in the league, who wouldn’t give an inch to each other.

“There was a big crowd there, around 150 I think, and most of them were stunned at how physical it was. It made you flinch. It’s not like we finished and were really upset because we couldn’t believe we’d lost it. It wasn’t like that.”

Breen went on: “It’s a narrow pitch and they know how to play it – and we were missing a few people. We got an injury after 20 minutes and couldn’t rotate our front row.

“Had we been able to I still think we could beat HAC, but they’ve beaten us twice this season, which means they’re better than us.

“We couldn’t have given more and on the day they edged it – credit to them. They’re a top bunch of guys as well. I think they’ll do well in the league above because of the passion and talent they’ve got.

“As much as we recruit good players, they’re just doing the same as us. We’re constantly running faster to stay where we are – but where we are is a top-three team in the league and I’m happy with that.”

Elsewhere in the division, Belsize Park suffered a 33-12 defeat away against Harrow, but they remain fourth in the table.

n Hampstead Ladies’ second team secured a 14-12 home win over Harlequin Ladies at the weekend.

The hosts dominated the first half, with Emily Taylor and Claire Benard both spotting gaps and using their pace to break the line and score under the posts, while Catherine O’Sullivan added two important conversions.

A physical Harlequins team managed to break through twice – once in the first half and once in the second – and the second period was close and tense.

But Hampstead defended strongly despite injuries in the pack, and strong runs from Victoria Bibby, combined from composure from Ruth Burns, helped to secure a narrow victory for their side.

Hampstead’s next outing is a cup match away against Romford. Anyone interested in getting involved with the team or trying rugby for the first time should visit http://www.hampsteadrugbyclub.co.uk/teams/148139