Battle of the Parks see Hammers winning ways roll-on

Two-weeks on since I last saw Hammersmith & Fulham Men’s 1st XV score 87 points, the time had arrived, a local derby, one that had not been seen for some time, the battle of the parks, Hurlingham vs Regents, Hammers vs Belsize, who would come out on top?

As my brothers and I were wrapped up in our match attire, the teams warmed up. Hammersmith’s dynamic stretching being led by Mr Hammers himself Ian Burbedge, while Steve Harris and Phil Swainston made last minute strategic tweaks in Director of Rugby Mark Jackson’s absence. The comms picked up over the next 40 minutes, as either side completed their preparation; quieter than usual, perhaps due to nerves or maybe just silent confidence as the team’s hit the pads and entered the changing rooms. No less than 10 minutes later, they were back out raring to go, Hammersmith and Fulham playing away from me throughout the first half, an uncommon affair.

Nevertheless, the boys started well despite giving an early penalty away off the restart, an eagerness to impress I expect and a prediction made by Pete Morris just before the whistle. Following Belsize Park’s kick to touch, the line out was contested and a scrum was awarded to the Hammers. A solid platform was formed by the forwards and the backs were released. A dummy, miss pass and an inside ball later Tim Russell found himself over the line, a 50m score that I could truly appreciate from my Bird’s eye view behind. Unlike previous weeks Joe Carolan needed no warming up and the conversion was slotted, for he is most at peace when the pressure is on him, 7 vs 0 Hammersmith & Fulham. The next 15 minutes were much the same as the Hammers intensity continued, Belsize only being relieved through a series of penalties caused by ill-discipline. The period did, however, eventually see Hammersmith add two additional converted tries, a strong pick-up off the base of the Scrum and some great hands from Matt Killeen and Tim Russell allowed Tom Proctor to dot down in the corner, while a break through the ruck from Joe Carolan and some outside support from Matt Killeen led to a further try, score 21 vs 0.

The next 20 minutes saw the tide turn and although I love to see Hammersmith doing well, it was nice to get closer to the action. Continued ill-discipline, as well as strong carries from Belsize Park saw the Hammers on the back foot, something the team would be unfamiliar with at home this season. While Hammersmith held out strong, they were unable to enter Belsize’s half and 20 minutes later the pressure took its toll. After a Tim Russell yellow card, taken on behalf of the team, it took just 2 minutes for Belsize Park to score. A quick-tap, some strong carries and great hands saw them score over the line to my left-hand side, just before half-time. An accurate conversion to my right and the extra 2 points were given, score heading into half time, Hammersmith & Fulham 21, Belsize Park 7.

As the second-half kicked off, you could hear the wind whistling and the nerves around Hurlingham, how would the Hammers respond? – now playing towards me. Unfortunately, not well. As the restart was spilled forward, Belsize pounced, their 13 running a strong line which sliced through the Hammers defence for a score, 21 vs 14, game-on. As Tessa Blanchard once said, “I do, I put pressure on myself” and that is exactly what Hammersmith had done, the response was now key, and what a response it was. With Tim Russell now back on the pitch the Hammers looked to press for the bonus point and after some consistent pressure and a Belsize Park yellow card, it was an inside ball to a galloping Ed Haynes that unleashed James Lo to score on my right-hand side. Carolan unfortunately, hitting my twin brother’s outside shoulder on this occasion, 26 vs 14. While his radar may have been slightly adrift on this occasion, it wasn’t 2 minutes later, as he slotted a penalty that intersected my brother and I. As the crowd cheered, all I could remember was Jacob Poulton’s whisper beforehand “think about the skill” – only 30 minutes earlier he had seen his dubious up and under result in a penalty for Belsize Park. With their tails now up, some great skills were on show. A solid Steve John catch from kick-off and some fantastic hands, saw Tim Russell storming down my left, an attempted inside pass to Joe Carolan was deemed to be deliberately knocked down by the Belsize Park defender and a further yellow card ensued – Belsize Park down to 13, an apparent eighth card of the season for them! From the scrum that followed, I was able to witness the backs once again in all their glory, a set-piece move saw Matt Killeen break the line and offload to James Lo for his second of the match and fourth of the season. This time there was no mistake and the Caravan slotted the ball just to my right, 36 vs 14.

Against the run of play Belsize Park struck next. With 15 players back on the pitch and some fantastic hands, their 11 was away, Dodging, Ducking, Dipping, Diving and Dodging like he was playing Globo Gym, the try was eventually scored in the corner – some very average Joe’s play from the Hammers backline. Conversion on this occasion unsuccessful, score 36 vs 19. With 5 minutes to play Hammersmith grabbed the match by the scruff of its neck. Ollie Weaver putting the team in a fantastic position, while exceeding Ben Dugdale’s request of just making touch. A great throw by Scott Van Berckel setting up the backline, as Tim Russell carried hard to the line. Three phases’ later and it was the tyre specialist himself Josh Smith over the line for the Hammers 6th of the game. With Carolan taking the full 90 seconds to slot the kick, the clock was dead and as the whistle was blown, they knew they had won, but were reluctant to celebrate, for they knew in their heart what still awaits them. Full-time, 43 vs 19.

Another Bonus-point win for Hammersmith & Fulham RFC, as they make it 281 points for the season and 4 out of 4 so far. Unfortunately, I won’t be there to observe them as they face a tough Old Haberdashers team away next week but wish them the best. Until Fullerian’s at home, I bid my farewell, for with drive and a bit of talent, you can move mountains.

The Left-Post closest to the Flood Lit Training Pitch

Score: Hammersmith & Fulham Men’s 1st XV 43 vs Belsize Park Men’s 1st XV 19

Man of the Match: Alex Spicer