UCS Old Boys boss admits he would like to be fielding his strongest line-up more regularly

Dan Stewart was the man of the match for UCS Old Boys. Pic: Paolo Minoli

Dan Stewart was the man of the match for UCS Old Boys. Pic: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Director of rugby Geoff Boxer says the return of Dan Stewart and some other experienced stars made all the difference as basement boys UCS overcame Old Actonians at the weekend – and he admits the Old Boys would benefit from having more consistency in their line-ups.

While UCS thumped Hillingdon Abbots 82-5 in their opening fixture in Herts/Middlesex Division One, the result has since been expunged after the Abbots dropped out of the league.

That development left the Old Boys with a record of five defeats from five games, but they got their first win on the board for the second time on Saturday.

Former county player Stewart and lock forward Manoj Bahl both made their first appearances of the season, and current Turkey international flanker Mert Zabci also returned.

They made their presences felt, alongside Ahmed Ghanem – who was a key figure in the front row as usual – and Chris Oulton, Ben Boyles and Matt Jacobs all touched down while Stewart kicked 10 points to ensure the hosts were victorious.

“It was a good performance but really it’s a question of whether we can get our best players on the field,” Boxer told Ham&High Sport. “This season, through injuries and availability, we’ve been unable to do that, whereas on Saturday we had key players in key positions, and that obviously helped.

“Dan Stewart hadn’t been able to make an appearance until now, and that made a huge difference, having such an experienced player at No10.

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“He was the man of the match. He kicks his penalties and conversions, he makes things work. He’s got a great balance of running, kicking and passing and that’s what you need as a fly-half. He mixes up his game and runs the show and that’s really what you’d expect from a full county player.

“You put a second row in, a No6 and a fly-half of quality and you obviously get a stronger performance.

“We’ve all got a roster and you can have 100 registered players in your club who can play league rugby. We can get access to lots of players and they play on and off, but do we get the same squad of 25 players throughout the season? The answer is no, and if we could get our best side out – as a lot of clubs will say – then it’s a different matter.

“We’re a club that really uses too many players in the first team over the season and we’d like to get a more concentrated squad of 25, but we cannot seem to do that. We’re often pulling in players who are either less experienced or don’t play as often as they’d like.”

Recruitment is not an issue for Boxer, who has a steady stream of youngsters coming out of UCS school and joining the ranks.

The challenge is to consistently strike the right balance between youth and experience and ensure the first team are not relegated again, having dropped down two divisions in 2014 and 2015.

“We’d like to stay in this division and now Hillingdon have gone down it looks like it’s going to be one from five or six, so of course every game is going to be very competitive now,” said Boxer.

“But, although players want to win every game, we’ve got one eye on the future because there’s a very large development going on at UCS next season – the school is putting in place a massive redevelopment of the grounds. We have a higher goal in the end.

“You see some clubs which are slipping down who clearly have an issue because the club is getting smaller and shrinking, rather than larger. In our situation we’re actually building towards what looks like it’s going to be a fantastic future.”

UCS have an opportunity to jump three places up the table this Saturday when they play their game in hand and visit local rivals Hendon for a rearranged derby duel.

The sides met on the opening weekend of the campaign but the match was turned into a friendly because the referee arrived late. The Old Boys won 19-10 but Boxer admits that counts for little this weekend.

“Will we get our best side out? Probably not. It’s a rearranged fixture so we’ll see,” he said. “I’m sure Hendon probably won’t be at full strength either. I have to say it was a very competitive game for a friendly. We came out just ahead but the reality is it’s a new game and probably two sides with slightly different line-ups from that day.”