Harpenden's hopes of moving up the London North West Two table came unstuck after a 28-15 home defeat to second-placed Hemel Hempstead.

Despite deservedly taking the lead early on in what turned out to be a typical hard-fought local derby and then twice hauling themselves back into contention after going behind, the task ultimately proved beyond them.

Cheered on by a bumper crowd, Harps had the best of the early exchanges and went ahead after 14 minutes when scrum-half Charlie Howard touched down following a good move initiated by wing Richard Wills.

However, Hemel hit back six minutes later with a successful penalty kick by stand-off Richard Woodard. Harpenden then spurned the chance to kick for what appeared to be three relatively easy points by choosing instead to tap a penalty and throw the ball out wide, a move which came to nothing.

Worse was to follow five minutes later when a kick ahead by stand-off Joe Tennant allowed Hemel to counter attack from deep and launch a fine move which ended in a try from Ross Willoughby, which was duly converted to give them a 10-5 lead.

Despite the major blow of losing leading try scorer Tom Muskett with a dead leg, Harps began the second half well and on 45 minutes replacement winger Tristan Francis touched down to even the scores when he raced away after pouncing on a loose ball.

Hemel then moved up a gear and were rewarded with two successful penalty kicks by Woodard within the space of a couple of minutes to go 16-10 ahead.

When Nino Massi scored their second try on 65 minutes, converted by Dan O’Brien, it looked all over for Harpenden. But they came right back into the game on 70 minutes when Fergus Cox, another replacement, touched down to bring the score back to 23-15.

Harps went in desperate search of more points, but in the final minute of the game and with night fast descending, the visitors put the result beyond all doubt with a third try.

Harpenden coach James Alvis said: “I can’t fault the boys for spirit and effort because it was first class, but where we fell down was our execution going forward and our tendency to throw a speculative pass.

“Despite the disappointment, I feel we have a lot to build on and I’m now looking forward to seeing what the players can do in the second half of the season.”