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Rugby: Harlow Under 18s go down fighting in the mud

Rugby / Wed 20th Mar 2024 at 10:18am

Harlow Rugby Club: Under 18s

Harcroft 17 v 27 Finchley

SPOILED by the high standards of professional rugby and sophisticated groundsmanship, modern rugby teams rarely have to contend with the agricultural pitch conditions that were once routine fare. However, Finchley’s ground on a wet Sunday afternoon offered a throwback to those days, challenging both sides with pools of standing water and a playing surface that might charitably be described as very soft.

In such trying conditions, Harcroft made a strong start, chasing up Abi’s kick-off and applying pressure to Finchley’s defence from the off. Winning good turnover ball, the away side came close to scoring in the first minute of the match but were held up close to the line. For a side that has sometimes been slow out of the blocks this season, this was a bright beginning.

Harcroft spent the first five minutes of the match camped in Finchley’s 22 and needed to come away with points as a reward for their territorial dominance. The breakthrough came courtesy of Lily Martin; Harcroft’s forwards drove forward with Martha picking up the ball from the ruck and slipping a neat pass inside for Lily to finish. Lily then converted her own try for an early 7-0 lead.

Finchley were rocked by the aggression of the Harcroft team, initially struggling to cope in the face of direct running and strong tackling from Camille and Charlotte. But they also showed character, defending resolutely as Harcroft worked hard to extend their lead. Grace and Tilly both had chances, but were defied by last-ditch tackles, and the Harcroft forwards’ efforts to strongarm the Finchley pack were repelled.

Buoyed by Harcroft’s failure to capitalise, Finchley began to come back into the game, finally breaking out of their own half and showing some attacking threat of their own. In wet weather, they showed excellent handling, sustaining a series of phases of possession that eventually saw them cross the line. The try went unconverted but pegged the score back to 7-5.

In the face of the Finchley fightback, Harcroft remained composed, winning the ball in midfield and working hard to get back on the front foot. With Tasha supplying plenty of quick ball from both scrum and ruck, Josie and Abbie were getting over the gain line with increasing regularity. Alex and Edith supplied width to keep Finchley stretched.

Eventually, Harcroft’s high-tempo, attacking game yielded further rewards. Brought down close to the line, Tilly was able to supply Lily Chapman, who found a small gap to score for a 12-5 lead. Lily’s conversion came up short, but Harcroft went into the half-time break with a well-deserved advantage. That reflected both their physicality over the first half, but also the quality of their rugby.

Finchley, however, were determined not to roll over. They started the second half impressively, closing down Harcroft with much greater energy. Both sides were competitive, but Finchley’s more muscular approach unnerved Harcroft, who began to make mistakes, finding it impossible to get out of their own 22.

This shift of momentum brought changes on the scoreboard too. Finchley’s second try was a carbon copy of their first score, with the ball recycled through several phases of possession; eventually Finchley were able to get over the line – and despite suspicions that the ball had been held up, the referee gave the try.

At 12-10, the game was anyone’s for the taking, but the home side continued to push forward. A last-ditch tackle from Martha looked to have prevented Finchley scoring in the corner, but with support in numbers, the result was inevitable. This unconverted try put Finchley in the lead for the first time in the match, with Harcroft now 15-12 down and only 20 minutes to play.

Both sides were now tiring, with the heavy pitch conditions taking a toll. Gaps began to open up, and Harcroft eyed several opportunities to get back in front. Charlotte, Tilly and Grace all made breaks, but it was Lily Chapman who recaptured the lead for Harcroft, showing a fine burst of speed on the left touchline and touching down in the corner. At 17-15 up, Harcroft began to scent victory.

Finchley, however, were not done either. Recapturing the ball from their own kick-off, they won important field position. Harcroft were unfortunate to concede two penalties for offside decisions that looked tight, but the result was a Finchley attack that culminated with a try in the corner.

Only three points behind, Harcroft knew that one score would be enough to take the honours, but they also risked leaving themselves vulnerable to a counter-attack that would put the game out of reach.

That, unfortunately, was exactly what happened. Winning turnover ball from a Harcroft side that had been sucked into the breakdown, Finchley broke upfield. Harcroft got numbers back to defend but were unable to prevent Finchley scoring. With the try subsequently converted, the scoreboard showed 27-17 in Finchley’s favour at the final whistle.

This was a disappointing result for Harcroft, particularly after such a strong start to the game. But a closely-fought contest could have gone either way and in energy-sapping conditions, the team showed courage, tenacity and togetherness. The strength of team spirit in this side has been evident all season and there is plenty more to look forward to from these players. 

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