Final-play heartbreak for Hammers 1st XV

After a comfortable win against a depleted KCS last weekend, the Hammers were determined to maintain this run of form and take this renewed momentum into the game against Guildford. It wouldn’t be a clear path, as no path is in this league, especially as Guildford were fresh of the back of having turned over London Welsh. The last time we met, it came right down to the final whistle after a spirited fight back from Guildford nearly saw them steal 3 points from The Hammers. In many ways, the nail-biting end to the last meeting would ultimately be the writing on the wall for our second encounter.

In what was one of the strongest and fastest starts to the season, the word on everyone’s mind (thanks to Steve Harris having repeated it 48 times during the warm up), was accuracy. This word encapsulated the first 10 minutes. Hearty goal line defence, ultimately led to a turnover for the Hammers and an additional 60 metres in territory thanks to a Joe Carolan banana kick special. After a textbook line out call, Zander collected the ball with panache welcoming his counterparts to a driving maul that replicated the power and speed of a rumbling Sherman tank. After a line-breaking, positive carry through the heart of the Guildford Centre partnership from Cillian, we were on top of them. After another rumbling line out drive, rolling and spinning out of danger and passing the ball back with precision, we eventually dotted down over the line. Gus finishing off what had been an impressive passage from Hammers. After JC added the extras, Hammers led 7-0 with only 6 mins gone.

Despite the momentum swinging strongly in the favour of Hammersmith and Fulham, following the rampant start that had earned them the lead, it wasn’t to be held for long. After what had initially seemed like an impenetrable wall of defensive strength, Guildford were beginning to uncover the chinks. After a missed tackle from Henry “likes to tackle too high” Martin, Guildford were on the front foot, and following two successful, well placed offloads, were in under the sticks. With no dramas on tough angles, the extras were added and the game was back to even-stevens at 7-7.

The game was shaping up to be a great game for the neutral. After some sustained “fight back” pressure in the opposition half, Hammers won a well-deserved penalty that JC converted to add another 3 to the scoreboard and put Hammers back in the driving seat. Despite this early excitement, what ensued was frenetic and panicked play from both sides. Several times Hammers strung together double figure phases, but didn’t seem to be going anywhere or making any yardage. What frustratingly followed time and time again was a turnover or a mistake that gifted possession back over to Guildford. The one saving Grace, was that Guildford’s line-out ball was as good as Hammer’s line-out ball with the Hammer’s line-out organisation performing as a finely oiled machine.

Guildford were much the same, with several clean line breaks ultimately leading to very little, despite their “French of old” style offloading strategy making them yards. Hammers scrambled well defensively, but as Clarkey pointed out on the sideline, you shouldn’t have to “scramble well” if you’re first up tackling is stronger. To add further speed bumps to the mix just before half time, Cillian and Henry both went down with shoulder injuries, and with no backs subs to come in and fill the positions, Harry “would actually probably prefer to be a centre anyway” Scar stepped up to the mark. Half-time score, 10-7.

Fresh out of the changing rooms, both teams were determined to shake up the rhythm of the game and style of play that had plagued the first half. Admittedly this was to no avail, and after 15 minutes of further sparring, Guildford were the team to make the breakthrough. After several phases of spirited Hammers defence, Guildford’s winger capitalised on a heavy overlap to dot over in the corner. With a harsh wind and a tough angle, the extras went begging. 10-12 to Guildford.

As if sparked back into life, Hammers started playing again. Several carries from Tim “Neowww” Russell scared the living life out of the Guildford back three, a fear that eventually came to fruition when a blind-side set piece move off the back of a strong Hammers scrum went from Ben England, to Rosco, to Hoops who delightfully put away Tim into the corner (carrying three of the Guildford players with him). With a difficult kick to come, everyone knew just how important an additional 2 could be on a game this tight. JC, unphased by the difficulty of the kick, slotted it with perfection and brought Hammer’s important added extras. 17-12 to Hammer’s, with half an hour to go.

The final half an hour would be a tough affair with Guildford determined to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But with every Guildford carry, Hammers met them with line speed and determination to continue to hold out. Sean “I hurt my back not playing rugby” McMahon and Alex “whiter than white” Hart in particular were hungry to send someone to the ER. There was also an iconic try saving moment from Rich “wonder who his brother is” Vaughn which was met without thunderous cheering from the sidelines and the pitch.

One of the standout moments of the game, that will no doubt go down in the annuls of Hammers history as being marred with controversy, came in the final 10-mins and may well have proved the difference. After a lovely hold up pass from Zander, Marshall “prefers touch” McCloud showed a majestic turn of pace to get outside the last defender and to twinkle-toe his way down the touch line. Despite raucous celebrations and cheers of elation to all who witnessed it, the fairytale was not meant to be. A late swing of the arm from the Hammer’s linesman would deny what would likely have been the try of the game and the deal sealer.

As if M Night Shyamalan was writing the script, there was one last plot twist that would throw the result on its head. After unsuccessfully securing the last scrum on a Hammers put in, one last opportunity presented itself to the Guildford players. With the clock in the red, Guildford mounted one final assault at the Hammers gate, and after several phases of offloads and gain line attack, managed to force themselves over in the corner. 17-17, with the kick to come. In what appeared to defy the laws of physics and kicker ability, what seemed an impossible kick, crept its way over and the final whistle blew. 17-19, to Guildford RFC.

With points unsecured, and Hammers 4th place credentials hanging in the balance, it’s time for the Hammers boys to lick their wounds clean ahead of what will be a tough away game against Chichester next week.


Full time: Hammersmith and Fulham RFC 17 – 19 Guildford RFC