St Albans Centurions suffered a frustrating 28-24 defeat at Eastern Rhinos in the London Premier League on Saturday.
The Cents squandered a half-time lead as mistakes cost them dearly in Colchester.
Centurions head coach Obi Ijeoma said: “I know it sounds strange, but I think we lost that match as much as Eastern Rhinos won it. There was plenty of heart, but there was just too many dropped balls and missed opportunities.”
Stalwarts such as Joe Shaw, Scott Clewlow, Simba Mupamhanga, Sam Norris, Brad Webber were all missing from the lineup. The good news was the return to the side of Ashley Westhead, Matt Stringer, Andy Hogg and Cents old boy Kier Bell.
The Rhinos forwards were probably the largest set the Cents have come up against this season, but for the opening 30 minutes of the first half it looked like the visitors would romp away with this game.
Ashley Westhead jinked past three defenders to cross the line, only to have it ruled as a no try as his foot went into touch as he crossed the try line.
In the eighth minute three defenders bounced off Josh Lawrence as he ran in the visitors’ first try from ten yards out and Nick Woolley converted.
Ten minutes later Kieron O’Shea outpaced the defence as he ran in an unconverted try out wide. Stringer then ran in another unconverted try on the other wing from 30 yards out.
The Eastern Rhinos knew they could not compare with the St Albans speedier backs, so played their rugby down the middle. Time after time their large forwards crashed into the Cents defensive wall and eventually they ran in two tries and a conversion in the last six minutes of the half. The half-time score was 14-10 to the Centurions.
If the Cents dominated the first 30 minutes of the game, the Rhinos controlled the second half-hour period, scoring three tries, two of which came from the visitors dropping the ball in their own half.
With the Rhinos leading 28-14 and 15 minutes left, the game swung back in the Centurions’ favour. First Westhead crossed the try line again, only for this not to be given as it was ruled that he was held up. George Stevens crossed the try line and this was not given as the referee said there was no downward pressure on the ball.
Not dismayed, two minutes later Stevens then crossed the Eastern line again for a try that was given, which was converted by Gareth Waters.
With ten minutes left, Simon Paige caused confusion in the Rhinos’ ranks with an early kick through, and in the resulting scramble Paige caught the ball and touched down.
With only four points the difference, the last five minutes saw the Centurions camped in the Rhinos 20-yard area, as they attacked play after play. Miles Dempsey, David Coyle and captain Mike Hollister all made charging runs to break the defence but to no avail as the Eastern Rhinos held out to take the match.
Team manager Shaun Orton said “These are the games we should be winning. We scored the same number of tries as the opposition, the difference was they converted two more kicks than we did. Three of their tries came from our mistakes or missed tackles. We also crossed their line another four or five times, only to have these attempts disallowed. We must be clinical, if we cross the line we must get that ball down.”
The Centurions take on top of the table side South West London Chargers in the London Rugby League Cup semi-final this Saturday. The game starts at 3pm at Toulmin Drive.