Saturday 23rd Seotember was a sobering day for the men from Hurlingham, as they went down 41-0 to a tough, physical, cohesive Bracknell side.
On their arrival in Berkshire, Hammers were greeted by dry, warm conditions (which would usually play into their hands as exponents of joue running rugby), but also a pitch that, although in great nick, was suspected to be a few metres narrower than standard.
Hammers started the first half playing up the hill and soon after receiving kick-off it became clear that the narrow pitch had been a clear predictor of Bracknell’s playing style, with their large, aggressive pack picking good, direct lines off 9 and 10 and beginning to making inroads in the Hammers defence. Add to that a well-drilled set piece and strong maul, helped by some sloppy Hammers errors, and Bracknell were able to cross the Hammers whitewash 5 times in the first period. Hammers were disappointed to have started the game too passively, with their line speed in defence not sufficient to knock the home side off their stride and not causing enough disruption at the breakdown to slow their ball. In attack, Hammers lost their shape too frequently and did not keep hold of the ball for long enough to test Bracknell on the edges, where they are typically most threatening. All-in-all, a decidedly sub-par first half meant the Men in Red went into the break trailing 29-0, with it all to do in the second half.
After some calm but stern words in the huddle, Hammers were much improved in the second half, dominating long periods of possession and territory. On the day though they were just not quite clinical enough to make the pressure count on the scoreboard. A second half score of 12-0 to Bracknell flattered them, with a try coming in the dying seconds through the middle of a tiring, hastily re-jigged Hammers defence following some late injuries.
Despite the scoreline, respect must be paid to a couple of the men from SW6. Up-front, Josh Asafu-Adjaye and the timeless Andrew Rogan did not take a backward step all day (scrums excluded!). Kudos also to Toby Hiram, who put in a battling display in the 7 shirt on debut, and Ben Navabi making his debut at the coalface. Finally, best wishes to Max Dugdale on his recovery from a nasty shoulder injury.
All eyes now return to Fortress Hurlingham for a huge game against Marlborough, where Hammers will hope to return to winning ways.