Hazlett warns Belsize Park must improve after opening-day defeat

Ben Parker scored a first-half try but Belsize Park were defeated. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Ben Parker scored a first-half try but Belsize Park were defeated. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

New captain George Hazlett admits an improvement will be necessary if Belsize Park are to repeat last season’s promotion challenge after they lost their opening game in London North-West Division Three to newly-promoted London Nigerian.

Belsize Park captain George Hazlett. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Belsize Park captain George Hazlett. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

BP, who were newcomers to the league themselves this time last year, won nine and drew one of their final 10 games and only missed out on a place in the top two on points difference.

They were unbeaten since December 20 2014 as they kicked off on Saturday, having also not lost a home game at Regents Park for two years – but both of their records were ended as they lost despite a try in each half from Ben Parker and Miran Serdarevic.

“We expected this to be a tough match as we knew London Nigerian were a club on the way up,” said Hazlett. “We were in their position last year, so we knew not to take them lightly as the newcomers to the league.

“After just missing out on promotion last year we are going to have to improve this weekend [away against Finchley] if we want that to happen this year.

“We had most of the possession all game but at times might have failed to use it properly, which was down to Nigerian having a good defensive structure.

“What was pleasing was our scrum – in previous seasons this has been somewhat of an Achilles heal.”

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Vice-captain Richard Wilson added: “London Nigerian proved they were a very decent side that we fully expect to be competing near the top of the league this season.

“We’ll look to quickly get back to winning ways after losing our undefeated run, and will look forward to heading to their place for the return leg.”

London Nigerian’s strong defence helped them to take the lead as they forced a knock-on which enabled Caolan Cotter to run 60m and score a converted try.

Park responded with a period of sustained pressure and a penalty from full-back Jeremy Burton put them on the board before Parker finished off a well-worked try out wide, picking up where he had left off last season, when he ended the campaign with four tries in four games.

Mark Liebling was having a strong game on the other flank, running good lines and beating defenders, while debutant fly-half Jamie Niven was standing out for the hosts, showing fine vision and kicking well out of his hands.

However, the visitors hit back, with captain Charlie Esberger providing the platform for the driving maul which couldn’t be stopped and rumbled over from 10m out, giving Nigerian a 12-8 half-time lead.

Burton cut the deficit to one point with the boot, but the away team extended the gap again with two penalties of their own – and another maul put them 23-11 up with just under 20 minutes remaining.

The Belsize backlash duly followed and Nigerian’s Oliver Cox was sinbinned as the pressure increased, and a strong effort from the forwards helped Serdarevic to force his way over 10 minutes from time.

They were now just five points behind and, when their opponents lost the ball in the last minute, BP launched a final attack from inside their own 22 and nearly got a decisive late score – only to be denied by a turn-over from Adam Foley.