On Saturday 7th March, Hammers made the coach journey north to play Welwyn in a rearranged fixture, the original postponed due to heavy rains and waterlogged pitches. Having been humbled at the hands of our Garden Centre friends in the corresponding fixture last year, this time round the back stories were very different: Hammers sat in 2nd place, chasing promotion, whilst Welwyn are in the dog fight at the of foot the table that we know only too well.
The weekend was previously earmarked as an “off week” and we were without a couple of first team regulars- those in the team fortunate enough to have other friends and a social life (or, in Alex Hart’s case, a date with a Granny). Pleasingly, the depth to our squad meant we were able to call up very capable replacements. One such replacement was Marshall “nice tie” MacLeod, who pitched up dressed like a school work experience student, but will have impressed the boss on his first XV debut (more on that later). Iain Downie and Joe Healy made their first starts. The latter coming good on his promise to take Rogan’s position, leaving our club captain to supervise the valuables bag on the sidelines, a role he takes very seriously.
Welwyn kicked off the first half, playing away from the club house. The sky was grey, but holding firm, and there was just a light wind blowing across the pitch. A sizeable Welwyn support was in attendance hoping to see their team get the win to salvage their season. We had Ash. And it was the Welwyn support, rather than Ash, who had the first thing to cheer about. Ten minutes in, possession was coughed up by the backs- *spoiler alert- this will be an ongoing theme *. On this occasion it was via a loose clearance kick and the Welwyn back line countered. A neat chip forward by the Welwyn right winger bounced awkwardly, deceiving the chasing Hammersmith players, and he regathered before dotting over. Not a good start. On the Touch line smoke billowed from Coach Jacko’s ears. Rogan had missed it. He was watching the valuables bag.
The conversion went wide- *spoiler alert- ongoing theme*- and play was resumed with the Hammers very keen to make amends for the slow start. Steve John, the clubs second best doctor, carried hard in his usual fashion and as the team started to play the structure, the Welwyn defence opened up. Prop Joe Healy found himself through a hole and into daylight, somewhat to the surprise of his teammates, but unfortunately, like several other similar opportunities, the Hammers failed to capitalize.
And Hammers were lucky not find themselves another try down when, amidst a pile of bodies over the Hammer’s try line, it looked like Welwyn’s Alex Gee-esque winger had grounded the ball. The referee didn’t see it- a let off for Hammers. The smoke cloud above Jacko’s head was expanding. Rogan wasn’t sure what happened. He still had his eyes firmly on the valuables bag.
Next was another collective groan from the Hammers faithful (Ash) when debutant fly half Marsh took a hard knock to the head, and seemed to be struggling. Our physio assessed him and was happy for Marsh to go on. The referee, however, wasn’t as convinced, and requested Marsh to jog 2 steps forwards then 5 steps backwards, before giving him his blessing. An unconventional HIA, but an outcome we welcomed.
From this point, Hammers started to take hold of the game. An overthrow from a Welwyn lineout in their own 22 bounced into the hands of Steve, the second best doctor, and he had a clear run in to the line. Even the recently single Ben Hatton couldn’t not convert. 5-7. What followed was a frustrating period where Hammers strung together a lot of good play but didn’t finish the chances. The doctors exchanged offloads, and the second rows, Xander and Josh, carried hard. Cale “I’ll come back now Hammers are second” Holmes harried well around the rucks, and Rogan, who due to an administrative error had found himself relieved of his valuables bag duties, executed the perfect “plus one”.
Unfortunately, a rugby team is 47% backs, and it seemed their basic skills were alluding them. Whilst our props were plus one-ing exquisitely, a back- who doesn’t currently have a plus one- Ben Hatton, was struggling to master the simple hand catch. On one such occasion, the forwards broke in the midfield, trading a series of delightful passes out of the tackle. Up the field the Hammers surged, the Welwyn defence sucked in, the overlap was on. Scrum half to Flyhalf. Pass and catch completed. Flyhalf to Inside centre. Pass and catch completed. So far so good. Inside centre to outside centre. This is going really well. Outside centre to Ben Hatton. Fumbled. Normality resumed. Try of the season cancelled. This was to be a repeating pattern. I recall that at one point, the ball was even passed straight into touch- a back believing that thin air would have more chance of executing the catch than his outside man.
Anyway, before this report becomes more negative than Pete Benson at a toddler’s birthday party, and longer and more drivelling than an Alex Gee team talk, I’m going to stop “back-bashing” and speed it up: We went on to score 6 further tries and play some decent rugby intermittently. Second on the score board was Cillian Waldron who intercepted in the Hammers half. The run-in was labored but he made it. Hatton did not make the kick. 5-10.
Next was J-Lo, who over the years has scored for fun despite his unconventional style of moving like the knight on a chess board: 2 steps horizontally for each step forwards. To quote the man himself (as I can’t remember): “right hand side, 40 out, ran in hard, handed off their 7 in the face and just turned on the Nos. It was a deadly mix of power and pace”. The same cannot be said for Hatton’s missed conversation. Northerner Purv chalked Hammers’ 4th. Again, I can’t remember what happened (I tend to look away when the backs get the ball) so here’s his account: “Aye oop! Ball came t’Iain, who passed t’ ‘atton who fed me t’dive acrobat’cally int’ corner. Ta ta.” (that’s how Northerners speak, right?!). Not converted.
After the break Iain Downie got try number 6. The scrum half who’d moved house at 11am that morning, 1 hour before the team bus departed, showing similar quick speed of thought to pick and go, throw the dummy and go over the whitewash. A Hatton slice and hook cancelled each other out and the ball accidentally sailed over the posts for a rare conversion. Next up was Xander who galloped under the sticks after supporting a Steve John break and offload. J-lo scuffed the quick drop goal. Not sure why it was even attempted- a strong DOTD contender.
The last try was scored by yours truly thanks to some guile from Hammersmith front rower/ Tory back bencher, Jacob “Reece Mogg” Poulton. Hammers were awarded a penalty 5m out and jolly Jacob called a quick tap. His swift hands found me in-between two defenders. I didn’t pass (rarely do), stuck my head down and barreled over. On a very slight angle, 15m in from the touch line, the kick proved too difficult.
There were no further scores from either team. Welwyn found their second wind in the final quarter and, had it not been for Marsh’s fantastic chase back and covering tackle, and a couple of vital Second Best Doctor turnovers, they may well have pinched one back at the end. But they didn’t and the final whistle was blown. Final score 39-5. The sheepish looks as we shuffled into the team huddle with Jacko at the end said it all- we knew we’d been far off our best. However, it could be argued 7 tries and a bonus point win on an “off day’ ain’t bad.
This past week’s current affairs have been eventful to say the least. With a pandemic upon as and with major sporting competitions around the country falling one by one, it may only be a matter of time before London North West 2 experiences a similar fate. In these uncertain times, this could be the last match report for a while. What is certain though, is that whenever we next play: Rogan will still know where the valuables bag is, Hatton will still be dropping balls, and Hammers will still be chasing down London Welsh. And we’re going to catch them.
MOTM- Zander Stephen (strong carries and hard work)
DOTD- Ben Hatton (see above)