Old Reigatians’ Twitter account described the fixture as “the final dress rehearsal for the new season”, in fact, neither team was caught mumbling their line out calls or repairing their costumes, instead there was a high-quality game of rugby under the August currant bun.
Old Reigatians (OR) started the first half the better team, dominating the lineout and delivering clean ball to their back line and making solid tackles on the gain-line to prevent H&Fs attack into OR’s half for the first 10 minutes. Once with possession OR denied H&F the ball at the breakdown and continued to work the forwards hard with OR’s no. 5 and 6 who proved to be great ball carriers and consistently made yards through H&Fs defence. This continued pressure ultimately led to a well-worked converted-try for OR, 15 minutes into the game. 7-0.
A strong 30m carry from Alex Gee (H&F 12) gave H&F some breathing room, but it was not to last. OR’s 10 used the prevailing wind to his advantage and deftly put boot to ball. This well-judged kicking put OR in H&Fs 22 dangerously soon after the converted try. OR managed to steal the lineout and possession leading to further pressure on H&F. OR 1st XV, who were proving to be a well-drilled side, worked the ball through the hands and successfully converted another try leaving the scores at 14-0 and 10 minutes to go until half time.
At this point H&F regrouped, showing a character and stamina which had been lacking at points in the previous season, and the defence developed a spine all of a sudden. Angus Lean (H&F 8) hit back with a serious defensive shot that rang out across the Surrey Hills and could only be recreated by a Blaser. With the ball spilled by OR this led to a counter-attack opportunity, and who better to seize a counter-attack moment than our Frenchman Alex Jouan (15). A rapid 40m line break was balanced with the ability to wait and look for support ultimately led to Ben Hatton (9) scoring under the posts with the assistance of Cillian Waldron (13). Ben Hatton with the conversion.14-7 and half-time.
Team talks over. Whistle blown. Game on. H&F came out fired up and fiercely physical in the second half with even Rogan making significant yards and winning the contact contest. A huge effort from the H&F forwards led to a 10m-out scrum being pushed-over the line and a Pete Benson scoring the try, sending OR back to underneath the posts to process the score. Top conversion kicking by Ben Hatton, despite a strong crosswind, levelled the scores at 14-14.
H&F had the wind and put boot to ball in an aggressive fashion, opening up the game and involving the back 3 on both teams. H&F gained some territory before a half-break and subtle offload by Joe Carolan (H&F 10) meant Jack Hopper (11) could whistle across the line and take H&F ahead for the first time in the match. 14-21.
H&F went straight in from the kick-off and won a penalty for hands in the ruck. Ben Hatton steps up and slots the penalty for 3 points with ease from about 35m out. 14-24.
OR looked to retaliate with a well-worked backs move from the set-piece involving depth, hard running lines and good handling skills. Dragged down by some desperate tackles OR made yards and quickly moved the ball to leave H&Fs defence out-numbered out-wide. OR were back in the game with 21-24 on the scoreboard and 10 minutes to go. Could H&F hold out?
A penalty against Phil Lord (H&F 3) left the skipper thinking “Lordy Lordy Lord, I’m going to strangle you Phil” as OR were given the perfect footing to make a serious attack to win the game. H&F braced themselves for the assault and strong first-up tackles by Pete, Sam, Angus and Cillian kept OR 5-10m out for 4 phases of play. OR had tried the direct route but found no way through and with the last phase of the game were forced to chance it wide but who should be there waiting, eyeing up the touchline and adjusting his hair before the big hit, other than Nick Manning ©. The whole-team effort to keep OR out in the dying moments of the game resulted in OR being bundled into touch and the score at full time being 21-24, H&F taking the win in the pre-season dress rehearsal.
The determination to dig deep and come back from 14-0 will be something that H&F hold onto for the coming season. Phil might get strangled, but Hammersmith and Fulham have added grit to their repertoire for the season ahead.