Hammers 1st XV take it the last play against Medway

The Hammer’s third league game of the season saw them travel to Medway RFC down in Rochester, Kent. Having finished fourth in London 1 South in the perennial season, the hosts have continued to show their impressive form with two bonus point wins over KCS Old Boys and London Irish Wild Geese. It would be a tough day for the Hammers and they knew they had to come out firing, following slightly sluggish starts in their previous games.

The first coach trip of the season consisted of a tremendous quiz, hosted by the noble Jacob Poulton. It was a bright and sunny afternoon, perfect for a Hammers game, as the coach rolled into Priestfields and there was already the murmuring of a crowd as the teams warmed up.

New first team captain, Joe Carolan got the game underway and Medway took possession of the ball despite having the sun in their eyes. The Hammers showed great heart in the first five minutes and their defence kept Medway trapped inside their own 22. Following some aerial tennis with some precise kicking from both teams, including an unintentional but exceptional 50-22 from Owen Bennett, the ball fell to Hammers left wing James Lo. He latched onto his own grubber kick and dotted down for an early try. The Hammers had turned up and were eager to make a game of it. Joe Carolan missed conversion, 5 – 0.

After the restart, the Hammers conceded a few penalties and were slowly marched up the field but a superb spiral from Joe Carolan sent the Medway winger chasing the ball back into his own 22, the Hammers really taking advantage of the new laws and were awarded a lineout. With great guile, J-Lo took a quick lineout and sent Jacob Poulton over the line for the Hammers second try. Joe Carolan missed conversion, 10 – 0.

The Hammers were really showing their class by this point and with the better start behind them tried to turn the screw to finish the game off early. However Medway had other ideas, relying on their imposing pack, strong carries slowly saw them march back up the pitch. When a penalty was awarded within kicking distance they took full opportunity and it was coolly slotted home to make it 10 – 3.

The Hammers were aware of Medway’s strengths but could do nothing to prevent it from repeating; another penalty conceded made it 10-6. Medway showed some impressive scrummaging in the process. The Hammers promising start was not being reflected by the scoreboard and they were becoming slightly frustrated.

From the ensuing restart, winger Tim Russell forced a knock on to win the Hammers a scrum just past the ten-metre line. A good push from the Hammers forwards gave Ben Dugdale a good platform to deliver the ball to Tim Russell, standing at first receiver, who attacked the Medway back line at speed with Mike Lavery on his left. With quick feet and his luscious locks, he burst through a gap and was one-on-one with the opposing fullback. Tackled several metres short of the try-line, he produced a delightful offload to the supporting Mike Lavery who scored just left of the posts. Joe Carolan missed conversion, 15 – 6.

Such champagne rugby was short-lived by the Hammers and after a tussle of territory in the middle of the park; the Hammers were ill-disciplined and gave away several penalties in the scrum and for being offside. Medway collected another three points, the boot turning out to be a decisive weapon for them, 15 – 9. Although the Hammers had scored three tries they were only six points ahead and there was a sense of missed chances growing.

In the dying embers of the first half, a break on the left wing for Medway resulted in a dubious ‘deliberate’ knock on from Rory Cardwell and he was, well, carded. His surname, an easy pun there, sorry. The Hammers replaced Owen Bennett with Ash Mitchell to match the numbers of the Medway pack. Medway kicked to touch and their lineout caught the Hammers defence out, a short throw to the first man who passed it back to their hooker to run over for their first try of the day. A missed conversion made it 15-14 to the visitors at the break.

With eight minutes still left on the sin-bin, Medway took full advantage of their extra man and with help from Hammers’ poor tackling the Medway backs scored two tries in quick succession. The first was converted, the second missed. As the Hammers returned to a full outfit of fifteen players, they were suddenly faced with the reality of being 26 – 15 down. Hammers would now have to show great resilience to overturn this Medway side, notorious for being strong at home. Substitutions: Marshall Macleod replaced J-Lo and went to fullback, Ricky Drewitt for Angus Brown at hooker.

The game was now heating up and there were some big hits being put in from both teams; Harry Scarr, Andrew Rogan and Pete Bicknell supplying some memorable shots. Several times a lack of depth and unfortunate dropped balls prevented the Hammers from releasing their swift backline. Frustration was growing. But the promise was there and it wasn’t long before good hands allowed Marshall Macleod to outstrip several Medway players on the right wing. With clear intent he powered towards the line and managed to apply sufficient downwards pressure for the referee to award the try, despite vocal protests from the crowd. Joe Carolan kicked a meteoric conversion from the touchline, 26 – 22.

The game was separated by four points and surging with intensity. A Medway yellow card opened the door for the Hammers to push for the win. Medway were now confined to the own 22 and struggled to escape, the Hammers mounting considerable pressure. Several penalties in favour of the Hammers paved way for the left foot of Mike Lavery to pin Medway back. But with each Hammers attack, Medway had an answer and refused to let them in.

After tenacious carries from the Hammers pack, Medway were narrow and sucked into the rucks meaning the Hammers had numbers of both sides of the pitch. In the last play of the game, the Hammers backs were screaming for width on the ball and either way should have delivered a winning try. The Hammers went left but were caught out by an intercept from a Medway lock. The forward galloped down the wing with the Medway crowd cheering him on in search for a try bonus point. From the other wing Marshall Macleod and Tim Russell desperately set off, reeling in their opponent with every step. It was the substitute who managed to slap the ball into touch and forced the referee to blow his whistle for the end of the game. Drama until the very end, it was an extremely relieved Medway crowd who knew they were fortunate to win the game.

Bonus points for scoring four tries and finishing less than seven behind Medway meant that the Hammers left Priestfields with two points, instead of five. Special mention to Alex Spicer for an outstanding debut for the Hammers.

Player of the Match – Harry Scarr (Defiant tackling and aggressive carries)