Belsize Park gearing up for climactic title showdown with Hackney
PUBLISHED: 14:53 07 April 2014 | UPDATED: 14:53 07 April 2014
Belsize Park are gearing up for a season-defining title showdown with promotion rivals Hackney this weekend after winning their penultimate game of the season.
BP secured a 27-22 bonus-point victory win at Old Actonians on Saturday thanks to tries from Seb Dunnett, George Hazlett, Fred House and Guy Parker.
That maintained their seven-point lead at the top and ensured a top-two finish. However, it is unclear whether the second-placed team will be promoted and Belsize can still be overtaken by Hackney, who have a game in hand.
The two teams go head to head this weekend, and a draw for BP would finally put them out of reach, securing the title and a place in London North-West Division Three.
Both teams are in formidable form, with Belsize Park winning 19 of their 21 games this season – including a club record 14-match winning run - while Hackney have won 17 out of 20.
BP won the previous meeting this season, triumphing 28-13 on the opening day, and they will now finish their season with an epic top-of-the-table clash against the same side.
Captain Tom House said: “We don’t enter any cup competitions, but this is a cup final for us – that’s how we’ve built it up. It would be heart-breaking to miss out, given how strong our form has been this season.
“It’s funny, we played Hackney in the last game of last season. We needed a result to avoid relegation and they were looking to go up, and we beat them, which was awesome.
“We’re away at their place again this weekend so it’s the scene of last season’s triumph, and hopefully we can do it again.
“We feel that we’re ready to go up and that we can compete in the next division. We gave Old Merchant Taylors’ a good game last season, before they were promoted, and they’re doing well in North-West Division Three this year. We ran Wasps close a couple of years ago as well.”
Belsize started quickly at Old Actonians on Saturday, receiving the kick-off and running from deep before Steve Eustace sent a superb box kick into the corner – and three phases later, Dunnett danced through to score under the posts, giving Charlie Oakes an easy conversion.
The Actonians line-out functioned well and made early advances but the Belsize forwards recalibrated and Hazlett dominated as the giant Kiwi towered above his opposite man.
The scrum was also evenly balanced, but that contest was tipped in Belsize’s favour as Zach Webb hooked three balls against the head, while Adam French made some crucial tackles and drove some hard yards.
Skipper House looked a little rusty in the opening exchanges but before long he was pinching balls again, as is his wont – and he was heavily involved in the second try, which came after 15 minutes.
Breaking up the right flank, he offloaded to Parker, who drew the winger wide and passed back inside to the supporting House. He rumbled on to the five-metre line and, as he was hauled into touch, he managed to pass the ball over the covering defence to his second row partner Hazlett, who dived over for an unconverted touchdown.
BP extended their lead as Fred House, who hit the gain line at pace all day long, took a tap penalty 15 metres out and crashed over the line.
And, although Actonians hit back with a penalty and then a try to narrow the gap to 19-10 at half-time, Belsize secured their valuable bonus point early in the second period as a short line-out and a rampaging run from Ollie Budd allowed Parker to slide over the line.
The second half ebbed and flowed, but once the bonus point was secured all thoughts turned to the upcoming showdown with Hackney.
Assistant coach James Lyndsay said: “Playing Old Actonians away is always a tough fixture, played on a very narrow pitch which doesn’t suit our expansive backs play. But the players showed they can adapt and play direct, aggressive rugby, sealing an important victory.”
Belsize’s first team are not the only side who are preparing for a vital game on Saturday. BP’s second string face their HAC counterparts in the grand final of Middlesex Merit League Division One.
Park’s third XV, ‘the Bulls’, are also contesting the grand final in Division Five, facing London French’s second team. Both matches will be played at London Wasps’ Twyford Avenue training ground in Ealing.