The first crunch week of SEMLA 15/16 approaches with the two front-runners Spencer and Hampstead facing their stiffest challenge of the campaign.
Both are coming off impressive wins but their title credentials will be put under the microscopic with forensic intensity by Hillcroft and Blues in two heavyweight encounters.
Spencer had to work hard to break down stubborn Cardiff resistance and only put the game to bed with a 6-0 final quarter to make it a 12-3 win in Wales.
“Cardiff were a well organised team and we took a while to get going after a long journey, with them pressing hard and their keeper being a wall throughout,” said co-captain Tom Leahy, who added: “Hillcroft will be a good game.”
Cardiff skipper Ceri Hill was pleased with his team’s solid defensive performance but he added “At 3 quarter time it was 6-3 to them but that is when they showed what a talented side they are, taking advantage of some tired Quins legs to taken the final quarter 6 - 0 with the ball barely making into our offensive half once!”
The Earslfield champions have had their eyes on their near neighbours in south London since pre-season and recognize a genuine threat from Tooting, where they have ironed out a few early season wrinkles.
Hillcroft haven’t played for two weeks but have trained hard so expect a season-defining performance from both sides.
Hampstead eased past Purley 17-4 but their potent offense will have a different challenge with Blues who dogged it out to win 10-8 against East Grinstead.
The Men in Black were in fluid form and created a host of chances as they racked up the big total but Stuart McGregor Dallas’s Blues are masters at stifling and unsettling attacks.
East Grinstead started the sharper at Banstead and showed the confidence that comes from an excellent start to the season.
“They took the early initiative with three quick goals in the first ten minutes before we could find out feet,” said McGregor Dallas. “Defensive errors and a bit of luck allowed East Grinstead to look the more dominant team at the start, before goals from Peter Ross and Matt Paul settled things down.”
Blues came out firing in the 2nd quarter and turned the 3-2 deficit into a 7-4 half time lead despite losing Wales international Ryan Walker to an ankle injury. Ross and Ewan Willsmer led the scoring as Blues pushed further in front but the Sussex side stormed back in the final quarter with three goals before Dave Cluney sealed it with his second of the game and a 12-8 scoreline.
EG skipper Andy Price added: “It was a tough game overall. We started strong and scored a couple early goals, but lost concentration during the 2nd and 3rd quarters, playing a lot of D and lacking the final ball in attack. We found our feet again and making a comeback, but the gap was too much to close in on.”
“Plenty of positives to take from the though and a really good performance against a team we typically struggle with, so we’re all eager for the return fixture.”
Blues hope to be at full strength at Hampstead in what they view as a ‘must-win’ game.
This week’s results will give a good indication of the Prem pecking order but will be way to early to give the victors anything other than a slender advantage.
Hitchin bounced back from two narrow loses to get on the right side of a tight scoreline with a 10-8 win in Bristol, who were without Wales D pole Matt Parkes, uni talent Sam Hockenhull and starting attackers Rob Rowe and Tom Wall.
The visitors were two up before the Bombers got their engines started but they pulled clear to make it 3-2 with a top corner rip from Rory Myles giving them confidence.
It was tough going as both teams scrapped for supremacy and at the half, Hitchin were 7-5 up and they capitalized to take the game to 10-5 before Bristol’s Guy Oldring-run D unit performed an impressive final quarter lock out.
“We found some fire and energy and started to roar our way back,” said skipper Pete Wilson, who started the scoring with two quick goals for a hat-trick and then Kyle McHugh made it 10-8 and set up a breathless closing section of the game.
“Our defence was phenomenal, completely shutting out Hitchin and turning over possession to get it back to the offense with Harry Morton-Smith having an MOTM performance
“We worked exceptionally hard too to try and level the scoreline but Hitchin just managed to squeeze the last energy out and held on very well to just keep us out. It was just one of the days that wasn’t meant to be ours.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my boys in the last quarter. After Tom Hamey’s injury and going down a few goals, we managed to show a hella lot of pride and fight back towards the end. It was frustrating to see the game taken away from us as I felt we deserved to win. It’s still quite early on in the season and I feel we are just beginning to gel really nicely as a team. I think the close scorelines with both Hitchin and Reading show that we have a lot to offer and I am very excited as we progress through the season.”