“Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the city”
– Oscar Wilde
After concluding pre-season activity with a hard-fought, albeit much-deserved victory against a talented Old Reigatians’ side, Hammersmith and Fulham’s (H&F) league season commenced under the glorious September sun with a testing fixture at home to Grasshoppers RFC (GH). Following a solid week of preparation, H&F hoped to make good on some of the ills of our previous game and fly quickly out of the gate in order to draw first blood.
And it was so! With pressure applied straight from the off, powerful carries from Angus Lean and Pete Benson carried H&F over the gain line on numerous occasions. Making inroads into the GH defence startled the opposition, who were unable to effectively coordinate a defensive press. The inability to deal with the H&F onslaught by the away team resulted in a number of penalties, enabling Ben Hatton to provide a masterclass in kicking for touch. Off these foundations, the Hammers forwards were able to execute two superb catch-and-drive routines from the lineout, cutting through the Grasshoppers defence like a hot knife through the proverbial. Whilst under pressure from the Hammers pack, the GH forwards were found wanting, and resorted to collapsing the maul resulting in a penalty try. Soon after, without any sort of response to the Hammers newfound driving expertise honed with thanks to the wisdom of Phil Swainston midweek, H&F crashed over once again to make the score 12-0 after 15 minutes.
After the first quarter, the H&F dominance was unquestionable, and it wasn’t until a delayed reaction to a GH penalty that H&F allowed the opposition to establish a foothold in the game. Two tries in quick succession against the run of play took H&F by surprise, as did GH growing wise to the aggressive lineout tactics and deciding not to engage in mauls, instead stepping aside. This caught H&F off-guard, and the ensuing confusion was capitalised on by GH who eventually went on to score a third.
Score at half-time: 12-17. With the mercury touching 26 degrees, this provided a much-needed break for both sides, particularly for the likes of Zander Stephen, who was less than impressed with the decision to remain outside for duration.
H&F stormed into the second half in a similar fashion to the first, applying pressure to which GH had no answer. Strong ball carries from Josh McClean and Andrew Rogan ground down the GH defence This provided the H&F backs a solid platform from which they were able to sling the ball out wide, with Alex Gee taking advantage of his physicality with a marauding run into the GH half. The words ‘bull’ and ‘china shop’ come to mind.
After setting up camp close to the GH try line, H&F were relentless in attack, with wave after wave of pick-and-go leaving the GH defence in tatters. Such persistence eventually bore fruit, with Phil Lord rolling like a kiwi boulder over the line.
This converted try and a following penalty put H&F in the driving seat with the scores at 22-17. The grit and determination of H&F was evident for all to see, and perhaps if it wasn’t for a spate of H&F injuries in quick succession, the final result may have been different. Alas, GH were able to make the most of their numerical advantage and converted a try which was then converted. At the 65th minute mark, the scores sat at 22-24.
In keeping with the nature of a game, most definitely in contention for game of the season if such an accolade was recognised by the powers that be at London 2 North West, H&F once again charged into GH, as Taylor Williams leapt like an Australian salmon, plucking the ball out of the sky from the restart and maintaining possession. After a physical backand-forth in the twilight period of the game, H&F were in need of a spark of brilliance in order to tip the scales back in favour of the home side. Although such a spark failed to materialise, Joe Carolan superbly anticipated a clumsy pass from a GH back row, allowing him to score under the sticks, with the try easily converted by Ben Hatton. 29-29.
With the score so delicately poised, and the fluidity of the game showing no sign of ceasing, both sides were in for a nervy final few minutes. As H&F pushed for the win, a turnover and subsequent breakaway by the GH eight put H&F on the back foot. Whether the raw emotion of an such an enthralling game, or lack of hydration, or a combination of the two got to the H&F hooker, a brief moment of madness awarded GH a penalty which was then converted, bringing the scores to 29-32.
AS H&F continued to press as the game drew to a close, both a solid defensive display from GH and a bout of attacking misfortune (Good Lord) that had seemed to plague H&F throughout the afternoon, enabled GH to hold out for the win.
Final score 29-32.
As is always the case, a loss in a game of such close margins is always difficult to take, and H&F will be aware that they most definitely had the expertise to emerge victorious. The Hammers will be looking to get back to winning ways away at Hackney this weekend, as the charge for the title continues.