HAC II 38 – 14 Hammers 4s
Hammers 4s travelled to the heart of the City of London to play HAC at the fabled Finsbury Barracks Ground – one of, if not the most valuable pieces of land used for playing rugby in the world. The setting in amongst the skyscrapers and trappings of military heritage seemed to have a positive effect on the squad who gathered for an energetic warm up and looked keen and set to take the field.
Come kick off, the Hammers suffered an immediate setback when Alex ‘The Greek’ the side’s most renowned ball carrier took the ball up in midfield but in the course of taking contact and recycling the ball sustained an injury from a stray elbow evidently from a fellow prop. The result was a broken nose that prevented any further participation in the game.
Despite losing one of the front re contingent, the scrum was providing a solid platform in the early stages with Chris Hall propping at loose head – a far cry from his usual role, exploiting the open spaces out wide.
Despite some success in the set piece and some encouraging phase play, HAC were able to make inroads through their big ball carriers in midfield and in the tight exchanges, particularly effective on the inside ball. Hammers defence freaked and was eventually breached out wide . A second lapse in defence then compounded some unforced handing errors and enabled the hosts to cross again just before half time.
By this time Hammers we’re down to 14 men after a scrum failed to set safely and stand-in prop Chris Hall fell awkwardly, suffering a nasty shoulder injury, the full extent of which only became apparent later. Despite having made provision for a front row injury the ‘letter of the law’ was applied, meaning that the game reverted to uncontested scrums with Hammers forced to play the remainder of the game a man down. It was an unfortunate but significant blow to the side, particularly given that Hammers at worst had parity in the scrums and took no advantage from going uncontested.
Despite some notable carriers from lock Benji Reid, centre Ollie Brothwood and skipper Tilbrook, the 4s went in 12-0 down at the turnaround. Despite the injuries and being a man light, there was a positive feeling amongst the squad who had generally held their own without seemingly getting out of second gear. However, it seemed the hosts also had fears they hadn’t used and they showed some fine handling skills in the early exchanges of the second half, exploiting space out wide and scoring a third try.
Hammers then hit back with some good work of their own, putting together a number of phases before good hands in the back line put centre Oli Scholes in space and through for a run to the line. With both sides now playing with some freedom, the game opened up and the home side ultimately took advantage, firstly making the most of an interception and again showing the competence in the back line before crossing on the right wing.
With the result no longer in doubt it would have been easy for heads to drop, but it was encouraging to see the Hammers take up the challenge of chasing bonus points. A fine try followed using the same formula as before with patient forward play followed by good hands in the backs. This time Chris Jager went through the gap created in the HAC defence to score a fine consolation. It was well deserved but ultimately not enough, as the hosts ruthlessly exploited the ambition shown by the Hammers in chasing further scores. The game finished with another interception by an HAC back, to put some deserved gloss on the score line.
Overall, a disappointing result and a below-par performance from the 4s who had gone into the game full of confidence and on the back of an encouraging run of recent form. Nonetheless, and not for the first time, the effort and commitment of the group, particularly when down to 14 men provides plenty of encouragement particularly with some influential figures (including regular Captain Will Parker), set for a welcome return next week.