Hammers 1st XV get back on track with gritty win

“You can learn a line from a win and a book from a defeat” – Paul Brown, NFL coach

As the Hammers 1st XV rolled into Beaconsfield RFC on a cold December Saturday, much learning could be found in the previous weekend’s loss. Memories of the missed kicks, missed tackles and missed opportunities were still fresh in the mind and would make for a tough chapter in the Tome that is Hammersmith & Fulham: from Swings to Red Trees.  Conscious that the previous encounter with Beaconsfield had resulted in a 87-3 win however, the boys were keen to right some wrongs and pen the next edition of their odyssey; one of victory, of 5 points, and of a performance worthy of our place at the top of the table.

Alas, if the Hammers thought that Beaconsfield had spent the intervening 10 games reading picture books predicting their inevitable defeat, they were mistaken. It was a much-changed team that greeted the Hammers that day and, heartened by an uncharacteristic fumble by Ricky “Sliders-are-neat-casual” Drewitt on the kick off, one that came hard at the league leaders from the outset.  Attacking into a sloping coffins’ corner with a directness that belied their place in the annex of Regional 2, it wasn’t long before a Hammers penalty gave Beaconsfield the opportunity for the posts. 3-0 to the home side.

Stung by this unexpected plot twist, the boys came back hard, making several probing attacks into Beaconsfield’s 22 before they were aided by the Beaconsfield 9 playing narrator and backchatting the ref.  Benefiting from an additional 10 meters, the Hammers maul showed its class, powering to the line before a neat set of hands and an offload through the backline found Bryce “Bruce” Morgan on the wing.  The full-stop was provided by Joe Carolan, who in typical fashion easily slotted the side-line conversion.  3-7.

Several phases followed the restart before Joe parried the ball deep into the Beaconsfield half.  The return kick? Charged down by reader-favourite and Legolas-look alike Tim Russell before Rogan, on his 101st cap, secured a turnover penalty subsequently kicked long to the corner.  Another great line-out followed before Ricky, catching a short pass from Tom Proctor, bedazzled the Beaconsfield 10 with his sidestep and found Ed “Whispers” Haynes running off his shoulder.  Passing to our resident chatterbox saw Ed silently touched down under the posts with nary a sound.  Even Joe couldn’t miss this sitter of a conversion. 3-14.

At this point, Act II began and typical of all good tales, it was here our heroes would face great adversity, regrettably much of it self-inflicted.  Reverting to their original game plan, Beaconsfield attacked narrow and with purpose, aided by the slope and a defensive line afflicted by lethargy.  A series of defensive penalties followed, culminating in Dr Steve John being shown a Yellow Card for repeatedly being a nause.  Despite pressure from the Hammers scrum, Beaconsfield would attack the sloped corner again and batter their way over.  8-14.

The restart would soon find Hammers deep in the Beaconsfield half, but their efforts would be spoiled by offensive penalties, a misfiring attack and a failure to give Ben/Max/Megan Dugdale clean ball at 9. Beaconsfield would fight their way back into the Hammers 40 meters and benefit from another defensive offside penalty.  11-14.

Momentum was shifting.  The Hammers, frustrated by their inability to execute attacking play, were hobbled by continuous penalties, foiled by a lack of possession and pinned by clever play from Beaconsfield who kept the ball tight to the ruck and ran into the bottom corner.  A too-successful Hammers scrum didn’t help when a clean hook by Ricky saw the ball come out unexpectantly fast only to be gathered up by Beaconsfield.  Attacking the corner again, they shortly went over.  18-17.

Our response? The need to finish the half on a positive note bleedingly obvious, a series of quick hands and penetrating runs secured a Hammers penalty right in front of the posts, but with the Hammers’ love of running Rugby ingrained in their character, a quick tap allowed Joe Carolan to slide in for the try.  18-19 at the half.

The boys had a game on their hands with  the second half an the opportunity for our heroes to write the script.  Unfortunately, Beaconsfield was determined to make this story a drama. Opening their account with the same narrow but intelligent attack that had served them so well in the first half, a lackadaisical Hammers defensive line gifted the talented Beaconsfield 10 – their major protagonist – another shot at goal.  21-19.  The Hammers lifted their tempo and quickly struck back. Continuing their domination of the setpiece, a Hammers line-out and driving maul gave our temporary, never-played-this-position-before impromptu substitute 9 Marshall McCloud a platform from which he helped set up Tim Russell for a training ground try. 21-26.

Bonus point secured, the Hammers inexplicably and immediately reopened the door for Beaconsfield thanks to a poorly executed  kick-for-touch. Charged down, Beaconsfield scored in the corner. 26-26.

It was tense, Act III now set for a thriller.  Both sides threw everything they had into the game, with Hammers feeling the pressure on their broad and sculpted shoulders while Beaconsfield chased hard for an elusive win. Eventually finding a rhythm and some soft shoulders, the waters began to part for the diminutive yet lethal kiwi Bryce, whose ability to duck out of tackles can only be explained by his long experience of dodging immigration and declarable taxes. Linking with Marshall and Ed, Bryce repeatedly found space in the 13 channel, unlucky not to score thanks to a blatant tap-down followed shortly by a surely-red-definitely-yellow-somehow-nothing yellow card for a high tackle. The referees pockets inexplicably sewn shut, tempers were running hot.

The boys tried again. And again. And again.  Finally securing a penalty for offside, they kicked to the corner, confident in their ability to maul a try. Ricky’s throwing, getting straighter every week, found its mark.  All went in for the heave-ho.  Forward momentum was gained.  We were on.  Even the backs – unsure what the “pushing in the maul” was but having a good guess – got involved, giving a reassuring pat on the back of the forward in front of them.  To the line they went…

…only for the unstoppable Hammers steam train to inexplicably collapse right on the line.

Thankfully, the referee had seen enough, and a penalty try was given.  The game all but over, the lads saw the match out deserved 33-26 winners, but know there was much left to improve if their path to promotion is to remain straight and true…

Tin Man: Steve John for being a nause

Man of Match: Steve John, for being a hard nause