Old habs 1st XV vs Eton Manor 1st XV
By Stephen Blundell
OH do the double over Manor
Old Habs welcomed Eton Manor to Croxdale Road having stopped a slew of losses with a good win over Luton the week before. Eton Manor is a big club, one we’ve historically struggled to get the better of. Our win against them earlier in the season felt like a massive result at the time – a tight, low scoring affair against a team expected to do well in the league.
The spring sunshine saw Habs running out victors, in the end quite comfortably, demonstrating that their high league position is no accident – and that at least for 2018/19, teams like Eton Manor are not to be feared as they may have been in the past.
Eton Manor kicked off and attacked the Habs line, although struggled to convert their possession into points. Their attack was marshalled well by their intelligent scrum half, who kept the phases coming, and kicked well. Sadly for Eton Manor, they couldn’t maintain their pressure, as their shortcomings in the front row were delicately picked apart by the rampant Habs front row. The strength in the scrum wasn’t mirrored however, by precision in the lineout, a curiously scrappy affair on the part of Old Haberdashers throughout the game.
Eventually, Eton Manor were able to score, with some nice interplay amongst their backs finally allowing one of their centres to bundle over for a try. Under the posts, Habs resettled, and level heads prevailed, knowing that there was nothing to worry about from Eton Manor, and that given time and application – the scores would come.
Coming back up the hill from the kick off, Habs pinned Eton Manor to their try line with a succession of scrums, each one sapping the strength from the Eton Manor forwards, and almost always ending with the Referee blowing his whistle in favour of the men in magenta. Eventually the pressure paid off – with James Clark dotting down from the back of another drive.
Charlie Esam, playing at 10 – was directing traffic well, and, after an Eton Manor infringement in midfield, saw that an opportunity presented itself out on the right hand side. He tapped, went, distributed and watched on in pleasure as Miller, Briff, Cian and Charlie popped the ball back and forth in the 5m channel, before releasing Charlie to dot down in the corner. A well worked try which left the score at 10-7 heading into the half.
Half time saw Habs confident, knowing that as they turned down the hill, they had an edge in areas all over the park, and needed to trust in themselves to deliver the results. For all of the talk, however, it was Eton Manor who scored first – driving up the pitch almost from the kick off. Habs weren’t to be outdone, though, and swiftly put the ball back down the field. More scrum pressure led to Eton Manor losing a man to the bin – and Habs with a penalty just inside the 22. Wiser heads suggested that taking the points would make sense, Harold Briffitt foremost among the “kick the points” party. Jonny Whittle was having none of it, though, and told the front row to get their heads back down and scrum again. 20 seconds later, a sheepish Briffitt was galumphing through the Eton Manor line to score, Esam and Miller having opened a delicious hole for him to roam through.
This lead wouldn’t be lost again. Soon after the defence parted again, with Simon Miller the beneficiary, 24-12 to Habs, with Charlie Esam and Jonny Whittle working well together in attack, and young Ben Lewry making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown in defence.
Eton Manor were always going to come again at Habs, and, picking off a lineout, they drove up the pitch again eventually moving the ball wide after some heroic defence from Tom Solis. The conversion missed, the score now stood at 24-17 with about 15 minutes to go. Soon afterwards, Habs would put the game to bed. Following a percussive run from Will Longhill, the ball fell to Monkey, who trotted off down the hill in more space than is probably safe for him. Seeking contact at the earliest opportunity – he drew the tackle and offloaded the ball inside to the onrushing Charlie Johnson who sped in under the posts to score the decisive try. 31-17, and the game was up for Eton Manor. They persisted and scored their fourth try for the bonus point, however Habs were quick to hit back with Esam lolloping over for a try following a break down the left hand side.
With the clock running down on a famous Habs win – there was time for one more piece of magic. With the ball in the Eton Manor corner, Martin Reeves was introduced to the fray to add some heft and experience to the Habs pack. Despite his advancing years, he put himself about admirably, nimbly getting out of the way of the ball at the back of a lineout as the ball fell to Jonny Whittle. A few phases later – Whittle would delicately pass the ball out of the tackle to Cian O’Riordain who would gallop over for the game’s final try.
45-24 and a handsome victory for Old Haberdashers against a decent Eton Manor outfit; this was a game which could easily have been a brave and scrappy loss, but with the confidence and quality of the current squad – it ended as a comfortable win. A great performance, with some fine tries and an enthusiastic crowd, celebrating their final lunch of the year. Bravo OH!