Richmond suffered an agonising defeat against the Old Albanian RFC, each side scoring four tries in a topsy turvy thriller. The home side secured victory in the last minutes of a game which Richmond certainly could have won. Nevertheless seven points and fourth place after two games in National One is a perfectly satisfactory start.
Richmond made two changes to the starting line up against Wharfedale, Toby Quarendon replacing Luke Cousins and Chris Davies taking over from Harison Edwards. On the bench, Henry Taylor, from the Harlequins Academy, made his first team debut.
The visitors made a good start on a glorious autumn afternoon, suited to an open game. Skipper Will Warden claimed a magnificent catch to secure initial possession and his side looked confident on the ball. James Greenwood was prominent in early attacks, venturing in from his wing, and the OAs had to work hard in defence. After three minutes, a sniping run from scrum half Jamie Gibbs drew a high tackle, neatly punished by a Tom Platt penalty.
With early scrums indicating a significant Richmond advantage, the omens looked favourable. It was therefore a surprise when the OAs took the lead after five minutes and it looked a very simple try from first phase possession. Albanians’ centre Terry Adams scored two tries in the same fixture last season and on this occasion stepped inside his man and then cut back inside the full back for a fine individual try, converted by Richard Gregg.
The contrasts in the strengths of the respective teams were soon highlighted when a rolling maul from the Richmond forwards drove the home side back some forty metres. The visitors’ fast line speed in defence was containing attacks well and Richmond worked their way patiently back into the game, securing their first try after fifteen minutes. Warden stole the OAs line out ball and the forwards enveloped him to drive to the line where Tom George got the final touchdown wide out for a 7-8 lead.
The next twenty minutes were altogether less favourable, as the home side scored two more tries for a 19-8 half time lead. Well marshalled by experienced half backs James Shanahan and Stefan Liebenberg, the home side looked full of running. Their centres have played together for several seasons and the confidence of averaging over 36 points a game in the previous season was soon apparent. Their second try originated from a tap penalty after Richmond were pinged for not giving ten metres. Winger Ollie Marchion was well tackled in the corner but hooker Brett McNamee, recruited from Hertford, timed his bullocking charge well and powered over in the follow up.
The third try will not be a favourite in any defensive video replay. The OAs long legged No 6 Billy Johnson set off on a hopeful canter into the Richmond half and was twice stopped and slowed only to step out of the tackle and progress further, finally finding No 8 Andrew Naish at his side for a scoring pass and a very soft try after twenty-six minutes. With an eleven point lead, the home side now looked full of swagger and Marchion was just stopped at the corner at the cost of a yellow card to flanker George. Richmond did well to hold out till half time without further damage, Nick Moore in particular pulling off a wonderful last ditch cover tackle.
The second half was a very different story as the visitors drew increasing confidence from their marked superiority in the front five. Shading the line outs, the visitors drove the home pack back at every tight scrum and the rolling mauls frequently made twenty or thirty metres, sapping the energy of the home forwards. Albanians remained dangerous on the counter and Platt was required to tackle Marchion well on a typical break out. But Richmond were now set on making better use of their forward power and Edwards reduced the deficit from a line out drive after five minutes. It was an irritation that Gregg immediately responded with a penalty to extend the lead again but Richmond kept focus and deserved their third try, George bursting powerfully clear into space before handing on to a rumbustious Danny Parkinson to charge over from ten metres.
With the impetus now clearly in Richmond’s favour, Warden bravely opted for a kick to touch when his side earned a penalty thirty metres out. The decision was immediately vindicated as line out ball was secured and Edwards again got the final touch from a forward drive to the line.
With seven minutes to go, Richmond led 22-25 and the Albanians looked distinctly rattled. Maybe experience now told as Richmond failed to close the game down and possession was too easily ceded to the home side. Nevertheless Richmond defended bravely and convincingly and it required something out of the ordinary to break the defensive line. Scrum half Liebenberg was the man and he dummied and dived over for the crucial score with three minutes left on the clock. His final party piece dropped goal off a post inflated the score but made no difference to the points allocation. Richmond fully earned their two points and only a little inexperience and small errors at critical times denied them a memorable victory.
Director of Rugby Steve Hill commented; ‘I am immensely proud of how we came back into the match after being 22-8 down. Our pack was magnificent and made the opposition look very ordinary. However you cannot afford to miss one on one tackles at this level and two of those cost us 14 points and ultimately the game. However to secure two bonus points is extremely creditable and allows us to take positives into next weeks tough encounter against unbeaten Blaydon’
Tries: George, Edwards (2), Parkinson
Team: T.Platt, J.Greenwood, T,Gregory, N.Moore(L.Cousins), W.Browne, T.Quarendon, J.Gibbs(H.Taylor), D.Parkinson, J.Phipps , T.Walford, W.Warden, T.Burns, T.George,C.Davies, J.Thompson(H.Edwards).