And so the Hammers found themselves making the short (in Katie S’ case, the very short) trip to old foes Beckenham on a clear but somewhat blustery day (you go Storm Brian). Things started off well a little bumpy with a few last minute team changes and our coach driver thinking he was auditioning for the latest the Fast and the Furious film. But we ended up arriving in Kent 30 minutes earlier than expected and with a rather large and rowdy crowd. As it turns out they weren’t there to witness our clash of the titans match but to take part in an annual charity half marathon and bake sale (only one of those things is actually fun).
Warm up was a funny affair and perhaps the early arrival time played havoc with our preparation as by all accounts the team undertook some of the worst team runs witnessed this century. However, after some stern words from the coaches the team resolved to put this right when it mattered i.e. the actual match. After some inspirational/idiotic words from a stand in captain imploring the team to “do it for the shirt, do it for the girl next door…” the team were suitably relaxed, confused and looking forward to starring in their own Romcom themed match. We started strongly with us dominating early on, holding onto the ball and recycling it well. There were strong hit ups from the forwards and the backs were doing their usual runny thing but we weren’t able to turn the pressure into points. After coughing up the ball it was Beckenham’s turn to put some pressure on but the Hammers stood firm and we were once more at a bit of an impasse. Beckenham took the ball into contact and after some strong defence the Hammers were able to run defence into attack. The ball made it through the hands into Mich’s arms and she proceeded to run around 4 Beckenham players to score on the right wing. The opposition was somewhat confused how this happened with a fair number of their forwards camped on the half way line wondering what had just happened. The score was unconverted but the Hammers had their noses in front 5-0. I don’t really remember what happened next but believe we didn’t control the restart, Beckenham came at us again, perhaps someone was distracted by a badger and then sadly Beckenham scored. They then decided to copy Mich and missed the conversion. We were all square.
The rest of the half involved much to-ing and fro-ing. Neither team was able to totally dominate and continuity was hard to come by. This wasn’t helped by the quasi-villain of the piece – the ref – who seemed to hate both sides in equal measure. Eventually after some great defensive pressure from the Hammers Mich completed a repeat of her first try to score on the right wing. This time the score was converted, the Beckenham forwards were once again confused and we were 12-5 up As repetition is a wonderful thing we decided to repeat our first try performance by not controlling the restart and allowing Beckenham control of the baby. After some good phases by them they were able to score and convert their try. 12-12, everyone loves a bit of symmetry. We finished the half strongly, camped on their line with a Beckenham player sent off for the most audacious of handballs since Maradona’s Hand of God. Unfortunately we weren’t able to keep control of the ball and the halftime whistle blew with the scores stuck at 12 all.
Gathering at half time the team were a tad disappointed in their performance and aware that we’d left a number of scores out there. Caroline and Mark worked hard to refocus us and point out that Beckenham were defending narrowly so the second half should be all about moving the ball quickly, gassing them on outside and with the wind on our backs turning them as much as possible. If this was a romcom then this was our time to undertake a makeover, transform from ugly ducklings into beautiful swans, charm the quarterback and become prom queen. After the wise words of the coaches the forwards decided to ignore this completely, beefing up their pack with Baggers coming in to flank and HP experiencing what is now known as a “Collings Sandwich”. Powerful runs from the pack and some great kicking to the corner from Leah off Beckenham penalties meant we were camped on their try line and ready to pounce. Fred, enjoying a storming game at 8, battled the wind to help ensure her pack could secure some great line outs and form juggernaut mauls that Beckenham just could not cope with. Even putting their bodies on the line read pulling down the maul and getting concussed couldn’t stop the Hammers and Baggers leapt like a salmon to score our third try. Whilst there was some doubt over the grounding calls from Beckenham for the TMO were declined by the referee as apparently someone with an iPhone doesn’t count and the try was awarded. Mich converted again and the Hammers were 19-12 to the good.
Just like all romcoms the course of true rugby never runs smoothly and the Hammers once more suffered from restartanitis (this is an actual medical thing, just ask the baby doctors). The Hammers turned over field position to Beckenham and they spent the next 5 minutes camped in our 22 and dare I say it on our 5 metre line. However, where before we may have crumbled this time the Hammers stood tall repelling wave after wave of attack, keeping organised and pressing. This pressure ultimately led to a fumble from Beckenham and a loose ball. We were able to regather and punt the ball 40 metres down the pitch. The vicious circle had been broken and the Hammers were then able to spend the remaining 20 minutes holed up in Beckenham’s half of the pitch. Whilst we enjoyed all the possession and territory Beckenham, the wind and our hands continued to frustrate our attempts to add to our tally. Their tackling was brave and they really put their bodies/faces on the line (nod to Ella for helping the opposition out with their various injuries and bleeding). With 10 minutes to go it looked like the win was on if not secure but the try bonus point would remain elusive or so Mark thought…. In a plot twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalanamalana (genuinely how is name is spelt) and predicted by the better coach (Caroline) we were able to score the two tried needed. One went to Younger Collings who burrowed over the line after repeated thrusts from the forwards. We will claim that the tears shed were tears of joy. This was unconverted and the score was 24-12. The final try officially now known as a “Bukky bonus” came from some initial great work from Leah, Fanny and others down the blindside who managed to break through the Beckenham ranks for Onora (returning after an AFL inspired hiatus) to come within a whisker of scoring bar a last ditch tackle from Beckenham. On the resulting throw in on the 5 metre line Beckenham suffered what is commonly known as a “brain fart” and attempted to run the ball from behind their try line only to get held up in a maul. Bukky, after a bit of persuasion from her team, decided the polite thing to do was rip the ball from their hands and dive over from 1 metre out. Again unconverted but the game was won, the bonus point secure and Beckenham had lost their losing bonus point. Awks. Final score 29-12.
There were a lot of great performances during the game but we can’t afford to give everyone a pint, we aren’t made of money. So forward of the match went to Fred who carried like a Trojan, never stopped working and was instrumental in ensuring the Hammers won clean ball at the lineouts. Back of the match went to Victoire who stayed up past her bedtime with a dominant and bossy display at 9, marshalling the backs and forwards and showing tremendous bravery in defence. Katherine also was presented with her belated debutant pint, which she downed like a pro.
A huge well done to the players for putting it all out there and for making the coaches smile. Thank you to our glorious supporters and captain/physio Ella who cheered us on and had to compete with a boisterous home crowd. Also, a thank you to Baggers who reminded us all why one should never take on the Russians.
And finally you can’t have a romcom without some life lessons so here goes:
Beckenham is not 20 minutes drive from Wandsworth
Every team in the league this year is utterly beatable
The unbeaten(ish) season will continue but only if we get ourselves down to training and make ourselves available on game day
We’ve been saying Bukky’s name wrong all season. It’s pronounced Victoria
Someone should make a rugby romcom, I’d watch that