‘No margin for error’ after red card contributes to Hampstead’s third defeat in four games

Hampstead prop Chris Groves was sent off inside the first quarter of an hour. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Hampstead prop Chris Groves was sent off inside the first quarter of an hour. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Head coach Peter Breen was frustrated by poor refereeing decisions and a lack of composure from his players as Hampstead suffered their third defeat in four games – and he says there is “now no margin for error” as the club chase a top-four finish.

Andy McEwen scored Hampstead's second-half try. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Andy McEwen scored Hampstead's second-half try. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Hampstead faced an uphill struggle against Harpenden from the 15th minute onwards on Saturday after their powerful prop Chris Groves was shown a red card for punching an opponent in retaliation to being kicked between the legs.

The incident was doubly frustrating for Breen as Hampstead had an overlap at the time and looked set to score.

And, although the visitors performed well with 14 men, they fell behind to a clinical penalty before conceding a controversial try, which left them 10-0 down.

Captain Andy McEwen halved the deficit with a score at the other end but Hampstead only came away with one losing bonus point and slipped to fifth place in the table.

“We had to play with 14 men, and even then we deserved to win the game,” Breen told Ham&High Sport. “Our pack scrummaged brilliantly but we were on the wrong end of two very harsh decisions.

“The red card was a red card. If you’ve got someone punching someone then that’s what’s going to happen – but both players should have been red-carded and we thought that was pretty harsh. The referee yellow-carded the opposite guy so he admitted he saw something. It’s either nothing or a red.

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“Then there were two knock-ons in the lead-up to their try. He should have seen one of them, it was quite obvious. We’ve videoed the game and there were clearly two knock-ons and the ball wasn’t grounded, and that was the only time they got in our half.

“We dominated the last half an hour but we just couldn’t keep composed and finish when we had chances.

“I think our need to succeed sort of overpowered our thinking. Sometimes the adrenaline can overcome you, and your passion to win can be to your detriment. We failed to keep composed when we worked opportunities. I suppose the lack of composure could include the retaliation as well.

“We’re a very clean team. Rugby’s a ferocious game and we pride ourselves on keeping it clean but he [Groves] does clearly get kicked in between the legs, and who’s to say how anyone would respond?”

Despite his disappointment, Breen was keen to highlight the performance of prop Fran Fronagy.

“He had no support behind him in the whole game but was brilliant in the scrum and all over the park,” said the coach. “He played both sides in the scrum for us.

“He’s one of the youngest players in the team at 23 years old and I think he’s played in 62 of the last 66 league games, and he’s played 80 minutes in every game. He’s really very durable.”

Hampstead’s previous defeats had come against title contenders – second-placed Hammersmith & Fulham and third-placed Old Haberdashers – but the latest setback came against the side who lie sixth in the standings, and they dropped out of the top four spots after being overtaken by Welwyn.

“We’ve now got no margin for error,” said Breen. “Haberdashers lost so paradoxically we kind of closed the gap on them.

“It looks like Fullerians are smashing everybody – they are massive – and we’ve got to play them in a few weeks’ time. We’ve now got to beat those sides – Fullerians and Hammersmith – to finish in the top three or four.

“I’d be gutted if we’re not in the top four. We’ve done so well, if we fell away into midtable, there’d be no hiding the disappointment. It’s not just me saying ‘I’d be disappointed’, I know how disappointed everybody would feel, so we’ve got to turn it round.

“But what we do have is brilliant training facilities so we have an ability to work on stuff and keep match fit, even if games get called off. We’ve got a way of getting out of it, it’s just going to take some quite dedicated training.”