Ipswich frighten fancied Hertford

RUGBY UNION: Ipswich 12 Hertford 20. This was nearly one of the upsets of the season, when Ipswich sitting in the bottom five, and struggling for form, took league leaders Hertford to the edge.

Ipswich 12 Hertford 20

THIS was nearly one of the upsets of the season, when Ipswich sitting in the bottom five, and struggling for form, took league leaders Hertford to the edge.

It was far being a walk-over some people predicted with Hertford pushed all the way.

Early on, Hertford tried to move the ball wide under pressure. John Searle read the pass, intercepted, and raced away to score under the posts. Brotherton converted, and Ipswich looked charged up.

Ipswich had been forced once again to make changes. Fielden came in for Hinds in the centre, Towns into the second row for Briggenshaw. Fairclough for hooker Reeve. Primmer replaced the injured Blyth, after making a good impression last weekend against Twickenham.

This did not help their cohesion in the tight, but they made up for this in effort.

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One of the features was the suffocating defence, led by some outstanding tackling from Fielden, back from retirement for the last few games of the season. He looked like he had never been away.

Fly half Van Heerden also used Fielden to good effect in attack, releasing him into the heart of the Hertford defence, brushing aside would-be tacklers, and providing an excellent platform from which to launch the next attack.

While Ipswich dominated the loose, and both packs looked evenly matched in the scrum, Ipswich were struggling to win line-out ball in the absence of hooker Reeve, and second row Briggenshaw.

These two regulars were missed, and Hertford constantly spoilt Ipswich ball, denying them the opportunity to establish control.

Ipswich had to be content to steal ball in the loose, and this they did to good effect, constantly turning Hertford over in the tackle, and rucking ball cleanly throughout. Price in particular, stood out. His work-rate was impressive.

As Ipswich kept the pressure on the visitors, they started to make mistakes. Ball was spilled, and Hertford were unable to create the free-flowing rugby that has brought them so many tries.

Their tight five forwards worked hard all afternoon, crashing the ball up, opening gaps for the scrum-half to break clear on a couple of occasions. The Ipswich cover defence was always on hand to snuff out the threat, and turn the ball over at the critical moment.

Hertford forced errors from Ipswich, but their kicker managed just two from four attempts, closing the gap to a point. Brotherton had his opportunities, but he also missed twice. The tension got to everyone.

Van Heerden mixed his game up well, kicking the ball deep into the Hertford half, gaining valuable yardage, then playing the ball wide in the opposition half.

On one such occasion he moved the ball to Fielden, who took his man on the outside. He had Brotherton in the clear outside him, but Hertford closed him down, and he could not get the pass away.

Moments later Van Heerden took a flat ball from Goodhall, and delicately chipped the Hertford defence. Gathering the ball himself, he threw out a miss-two pass which found Johnsen in the clear. He scorched into the corner for a well deserved try.

Brotherton missed the conversion, but Ipswich had extended their lead to 12-6.

As the game entered its final quarter, Hertford looked the fitter of the two sides. Their pack started to get a nudge on in the scrums, and this coupled with the problems Ipswich were having in the line-out, meant that the visitors were starting to get a grip on the game.

Quality possession was drying up for the home side, and the backs were living off scraps. Under pressure in midfield, Fielden mis-hit his clearance kick. The Hertford winger took the catch and made ground wide on the left. He kicked through, Brotherton gathered but was tackled under the posts, and Hertford had the opportunity they had been waiting for.

At the resulting scrum, they pushed the Ipswich pack back, and their number eight touched down for a crucial score. They conversion was a formality, and Hertford took a 13-12 lead with 20 minutes to play.

Once again Ipswich attacked, Searle took the ball on from the base of a ruck. Murphy picked up and went on a forceful run, providing good ball for Goodall.

He found Fielden, who once again took his man on the outside, as he slipped the ball to Johnson. A Hertford hand knocked the ball away. The referee adjudged a knock-on and awarded a defensive scrum, which was a tough call. It should have been a try for Ipswich.

Hertford raced away with the ball and once again kicked deep into the Ipswich half. Full-back Harding hoped the ball would roll over the try line to touch down. It held up short and good Hertford chasing forced Harding to carry the ball over his own line.

Once again Hertford gathered themselves and applied pressure in the scrum, Ipswich held, but the front row stood up, and the referee awarded a penalty try, to make it 12-20.

Hertford survived a couple more scares before the final whistle. They marched on, league leaders for another week, promotion one step nearer.

"We took another step forward today," said Atherton, Ipswich's coach.

"It does not help that we do not seem to be able to field the same side week-in and week-out. Despite this we are starting to be more consistent.

"If our lineout was functioning more effectively, we could have won. But there were a lot of plus factors."

Ipswich entertain Sudbury in the semi-final of the Suffolk Cup on Saturday and will want to finish the season on a high note.

The following Saturday Ipswich have a crucial league game.

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