Saturday, 21st October 2023, will go down in history as a devastating day for most England rugby fans, as a last-gasp score left the faithful fans with a hollow feeling. It got even worse for the singers of “Sweet Chariot” when South Africa pipped the England national team to earn a place in the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final.
Going into the game, Tunbridge Wells had four wins and two losses; the inverse of the Hammers, who had two wins and four losses, making this an enticing 9th vs. 4th place fixture. The weather was respecting the behemoth occasion by releasing the heavens upon the hallowed grounds of SW6. New flatmates, Tim and Marshall, had a particularly romantic moment in the pouring rain as they performed “One Day More” on the ride to Hurlingham Park, where the weather remained very miserable indeed.
Tunbridge Wells kicked off, and it was caught by a sliding Harry Scarr before both teams engaged in some excellent kick-tennis. Joe Carolan delivering some excellent bombs with his now trademarked “throw the ball at his foot and hit it really hard” technique, which fired the Hammers downfield. Wells began the afternoon with several handling errors, and the Hammers utilised the opportunities with our former center turned scrum-half, now playing at 10, Ross Anderson in the pocket for a delicious chip over the top of the advancing Kent midfield. Joint second-fastest winger in the club, Tim Russell latched onto the bobbling ball and dotted down for the first try of the game. Joe Carolan conversion: 7 – 0.
The thousands of spectators down at Hurlingham Park really got to experience the highs and lows of the beautiful game as they relished in the ecstasy of a 50-22 from Ross Anderson, before flinching with anxiety as he recovered a Tunbridge grubber, dummied the chasing winger, and then cleared the ball (to midfield) all from our own try-line. After some uninteresting pressure, Wells won a penalty and opted for the points: 7 – 3. The weather persisted, resulting in more and more kicks as both backlines looked to gain an advantage, Peter Morris producing some fine nudges from his own 22 to relieve the pressure on the Hammers.
At the 20-minute mark, Tunbridge Wells had mounted an all-out attack for the Hammers line from a solid driving maul; they worked it nicely to the back, hit a good runner in the middle, produced a nice tip-on carry, dropped the ball, and allowed Scott Van Berckel to boot the loose ball forward. At that moment, it was as though someone had fired the starting gun for a 100m race; within seconds, the Hammers’ back three were flying forward in a perfect chevron, hunting the ball down as it thundered over halfway. Often described as lightning-quick by everyone, Peter Morris, Marshall MacLeod, and Tim Russell raced forward. The former honey badger got there first and demonstrated his unselfishness by slicing the grubber wayward into the path of Peter Morris. The Austrian playmaker returned the favor as he gathered the loose ball and offloaded it back, just as the Wells’ players started to surround them both. The passage was pure skill and just good rugby, not an absolute fluke that helped avoid an embarrassment for a spurned opportunity. Joe Carolan missed conversion, before rightfully blaming the post: 12 – 3.
As we entered spooky season, the Hammers were haunted by their discipline yet again. Wells took the points again: 12 – 6. After the restart and another knock-on by Wells, the weather proving to be their second biggest challenge of the day after, of course, the monstrous carries of, the newly unsingle, Josh Asafu-Adjaye. Inspired by Captain Proctor, the Hammers drove forward and won a lineout, a little too convincingly, and as a back writing this, Tonbridge Wells did something very anti-rugby: they didn’t compete in the pushy things after the lineouts. Clearly confused that their
forwards could think coherently, the Hammers lost their concentration for a brief period and allowed Tunbridge to gain significant territory, resulting in another penalty won in their opposition 22. It was in this moment that Marshall MacLeod (the Hammers’ joint-second fastest winger) suddenly decided that he was hungry and instead of opting for meat pies, opted for some cheese. With a man advantage, Wells fashioned some strong carries to score a well-worked try under the sticks. Conversion was good as the whistle sounded for half-time: 12 – 13.
The Hammers came out flying, gathering the kickoff and making excellent yards through huge carriers from Zak Underwood and Alex Spicer. Ross Anderson risked it all as he put his ribs on show to the Tunbridge flanker as Pete Morris skipped beautifully through a gap in midfield. He was brought down agonizingly close to the line. After a quick ruck, Ben Dugdale whipped the ball out to our gorgeous hooker, Scott VB, who dotted down. Joe Carolan missed conversion: 17 – 13.
The second half continued the lovely game of kick-tennis, Ross and Joe delivering some excellent bombs. Tim Russell caught a long return kick and was promptly decapitated by the opposite center, resulting in the ref dishing out the second yellow of the game. Even with a man down, Tunbridge drove forward and scored an easy try out wide, primarily due to the lackluster defense from the Hammers. Conversion was good: 17 – 20.
The Hammers faithful knew there was going to be a game on their hands now as the final quarter of the game proved to be a true cat-and-mouse story. The Hammers’ greatest ally on the day, another handling error from the Wells backline, allowed Pete Morris to gather the loose ball and offload to Tim Russell, who basketball-passed the ball to Joe Carolan, finally getting out of second gear for the first time that day. Still not flat-out, Joe needed the torque of the lower gears to leg-drive his way over the try-line to score. Joe added the extras: 24 – 20.
Hammers just love playing rugby, especially in their own 22, and delicious hands by Jack Watters and Barry (short for Barracuda) Scarr led to a knock-on by Wells well into their half. The scrum led to a period of stalemate for both teams, several minutes of high kicks and phases in the middle of the park. Harry Boyd (joint second fastest winger in the club), now on, galloped forward multiple times, striding into the open space left by the Wells backs, fleeing as the escaped convict he now looks like with his new buzz-cut.
Tunbridge used all of their tactical genius to pick-and-go to the tryline to impose a presence onto the Hammers. They eventually barreled a maul over, and the conversion was good: 24 – 27. The game really hotting up. After the restart, Tunbridge came straight back, relentless carries, smart offloads, and hard lines. The Hammers’ defense was holding out, but they were being slowly driven backward by some impressive phases. Tunbridge battled on, making precious ground with every carry, inch by inch they crept closer to the Hammers line before… HARRY BOYD! Now, when you think of Harry Boyd, you think of raw pace, a clean pair of heels, and dust trailing after him as he approaches MACH 1. Once he had gathered the ball from another Tunbridge knock-on, there was no stopping the inevitable: a 70-meter run down the wing and another try for the flying winger in his debut season for the Hammers. Joe Carolan conversion: 31 – 27.
Surely that was it for the day, and as the skies became gray, so did the outlook for the Hammers. Conceding penalties in their own 22 is not a good way to finish the day, even with outstanding hits from Josh Smith and Ryan Powter. Tunbridge looked to the corner to complete their playbook for the day, a rolling maul led to another forward’s try. It wasn’t particularly beautiful rugby, but it was effective, and the conversion rubbed salt in the wounds of the Hammers: 31 – 34. Final score.
Fair play to a well-drilled Tunbridge Wells team, who kicked skillfully and carried stronger. It was another tough loss for the Hammers to take, but some impressive performances from Harry Boyd, Peter Morris. Scott VB and Harry Scarr also had excellent games up front.
Man of the Match: Harry Boyd
Dick of the Day: Marshall MacLeod
Tries: Tim Russell (x2), Joe Carolan, Scott Van Berckel, Harry Boyd.
Conversions: Joe Carolan (x3)