Picture galleries: Rugby: Saffron Walden edge out Enfield in tight encounter at Allianz Park stadium, home to Saracens
PUBLISHED: 08:44 05 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:47 06 March 2014
Head coach Tom Hughes believes Walden’s “incredible experience” of playing at the world-class Allianz Park stadium can be the catalyst to drive the team on to promotion.
Walden edged a hard-fought encounter with Enfield Ignatians on the artificial 4G pitch at the state-of-the-art venue, which is home to Saracens.
Both Walden and Enfield are part of the Saracens Community Program and benefit from a number of initiatives run by the premier league club’s development team, including the opportunity to play at the stadium.
Running out to music, lining up to a band playing the national anthem with the big screen showing the game live – matched with a few hundred supporters – all added to an experience the players will never forget.
“It was a incredible, and to win the game as well was important,” said Hughes, who admitted his team were not at their best.
“The pitch was unbelievable and the support was terrific. The players were calling moves and although we were only five or six yards apart you couldn’t hear each other.
“It was superb – the best experience I have had in rugby.”
Despite the cup final feel, it was a league game and the victory was all important for Walden to maintain pressure on league leaders Ipswich.
Things looked rosy when centre Mark Kimberley went over and Tom Price kicked a penalty to put Walden 8-0 in front as they dominated the opening exchanges.
The boot then took over, the teams trading penalties as Walden went in at the break 17-11 up.
Enfield upped the pace in the second half and a couple more penalties brought them to within one point.
But resolute defending from Walden was followed by another penalty on the hour mark which knocked the stuffing out of the hosts. It allowed Walden to exert control, starve Enfield of any decent possession and run the clock down to win the game.
With six games remaining, Walden are four behind leaders Ipswich and four in front of third-place Rochford. Only the winners are guaranteed promotion, while second place will go into a play-off from the runner-up in London 2NW.
“Every single game counts now,” said Hughes. “Norwich, Holt and Chelmsford in our next few games and they are all going to be tough.
“But we’ve got a lot of players available and this experience can only serve us well. We’ll be confident going into the trip to Norwich on Saturday.”