Hatters Match Reports

Saturday 8 April 2017, vs Tonbridge Juddians, Away (Zoo Sports Shield Division 3 play-off semi-final)
Result: 25 – 31 (W)

With the hottest day of the year came the Hatters’ best performance in recent memory and a nice bit of sunburn to top it all off. Against a team whose 1st and 2nd XVs have lost only 3 league games combined this season the Hatters knew this would be the hardest game of the season. With TJ 1st XV securing the National 3 title on the adjacent pitch, TJ 2nd XV were looking to add to the glory by securing their place in the play-off final. With 5 minutes on the clock it looked as if it would indeed be TJs playing Richmond in the final after one of the TJ outside backs cantered home out wide after good hands against an awakening Hatters’ defence. Conversion missed. 5-0 TJ. The Hatters were square after their first real attack produced a deft grubber and after a questionable pick up AA eventually bundled over. So confused must the ref have been seeing Harrow old boy and hooker Wigley using his foot he must have switched his rules to those of Harrow Football – “Harrow Football is a gentleman’s game. Ideally, there are no penalties and the game is never stopped, if it can be helped, while the ball is in play. Rules must therefore be kept for the sake of conscience, and the benefit of the doubt is habitually given to the opposition.” Conversion missed, 5-5.

TJs then started to build up phase after phase with their No. 8 and strike runners ploughing the Hatters’ defensive line. Thankfully the back row trio of Ward, Kinsky and Mills returned each attack, often with interest. One phase too many and TJs were able to scurry over out wide for a 10-5 lead to TJ.

The Hatters picked up the intensity after 20 minutes with the set plays being executed perfectly and after good yards were made by the likes of Henry and Owen Davies, scrum half Longers was able to snipe over from close out. Confusingly after both touch judges raised their flags the ref decided that the kick had in fact sailed wide, 10-10. Momentum continued to swing for the remainder of the first half with TJs responding immediately to score another only for the Hatters to crash back with Kinsky touching down after a well worked line-out. Half time and a 15-17 lead to the Hatters with TJs down to 14 men for repeated infringements.

Knowing the first score after half-time would be crucial and with a man advantage the Hatters decided to make things harder than they needed by gifting TJs a try after some disjointed attacking saw a turnover and the ball being spread to their left winger who went over unopposed. Converted and a 22-17 lead to TJs. With 14 men on the pitch TJs launched another counter resulting in a penalty in front of the sticks which took the lead to 8 points, 25-17. The new interpretation of a high tackle saw fly half Crawford questionably sent to the bin and with 8 points down and with 14 men the Hatters’ could easily have fallen away but stepped up and used the well-functioning set pieces to batter the TJs defence which saw Longers pick and step a couple of players for his second of the day. With Crawford off Longers converted his own kick, 25-24 to TJs. Helped by TJs losing their hard running No. 8 to the sin bin and with glory so close, the Hatters launched a final minute attack from their own half with sub Mason stepping and beating 3 defenders before a series of offloads found substitute prop Rory rampaging through, seemingly desperate to finish this game and get into the shade. The ball found Porter who Porter’d it (To Porter it – definition: decide against using the overlap / easier option to score) and beat the 15 to score under the sticks with what looked like the last play. Converted and a 31-25 lead with seconds to play.

The ref confirmed the kick off would be the last play so the Hatters caught the restart and the ball found itself in touch, only for the ref to decide that he actually fancied giving TJ a final throw of the dice and the line out would need to be taken. TJs caught well and started a powerful maul only for the biggest Hatters’ pack of the season to stand the maul up which finally saw a scrum awarded and the final whistle blown.

For those of us who have been with the Hatters a long time, that will go down as the best performance for years with every player putting in a serious shift. Men of the match went to Henry for countless charges and surviving a Samoan clothes-line, to Longers for his 2 tries and to Wilson for an excellent defensive display in the centres. The play-off final awaits against Richmond Normans in 2 weeks….

Some pics from TJ wesbite here.

Saturday 1 April 2017, vs Kew Occasionals, Home (Friendly)
Result: 19 – 36 (L)

On a sunny spring afternoon, the Hatters were met at the Rock by some familiar faces from previous seasons as the old boys arrived in force to cheer from the stands and, in one case, to provide much needed reinforcement to the back line. Deprived of Wilson and Payne through injury (not to mention Kelly) with Longers and Porter away, and with more forwards on the bench than backs in the squad, there was only one game plan: keep it tight. Crawford perhaps took this too literally as his kick-off didn’t go 10 and the game started with a scrum on the halfway. Anyway, the plan worked as the ball was won against the head. This heralded a period of sustained pressure from the Hatters as Foot, Davies and Kinsky ran crash ball after crash ball off Hughesie at scrumhalf and the front-five continued to turn the screw at the set piece. This continued pressure allowed the Hatters to cross the whitewash through Bondie who took the ball about 15 metres out before beating two Kews players to crash over for a well-deserved try. However, while Park’s tight game plan worked well when in possession, Kews were able to exploit the wide open spaces when they had the ball, crossing over for two tries of their own in the first-half. It would have been more had it not been for some excellent covering tackles from Rosser at full back. Anyway, 12-5 at the turnaround with everything to play for.

The second-half continued in the same vein with the Hatters punishing Kews both in the lineout and the scrum and making the hard yards close to the breakdown. After several phases of this with Wardie in particular running kamikaze lines into the Kews midfield, de Haan burrowed over for a good try on the right hand side of the posts. Another episode of pressure from a lineout in Kews 22 led to Beale on his comeback from a dislocated elbow score a well-worked try in the left hand corner as Kews ran out of defenders. However, despite maintaining such pressure for large periods of the game, Park, tiring as the game progressed, managed to leak several tries through poor communication in defence as Kews pounced on the loose ball. While the Hatters kept in touch, the lead eluded them. Special mention to Hughesie who put in an excellent performance at scrumhalf, Wisey who showed one again that he remains the quickest player in the squad despite three years’ absence and being the wrong side of 40, and the man mountain Jawich who wreaked havoc on the oppo’s scrum. Congratulations also to de Haan who put in yet another man of the match performance at prop and to Greg on an impressive debut for the Hatters. While disappointing, the result did nothing to dampen post-match festivities in the sun. Particular thanks to Kew Occasionals for donating a signed Quins shirt which raised £205 in a raffle for the Shawnton de Four Dependants’ Fund.

After a decent test with many positives, particularly in the tight, the Hatters will have to sharpen up for their semi-final against Tonbridge Juddians on Saturday.

Saturday 11 March 2017, vs Dorking ‘A’ XV, Home
Result: 27 – 25 (W)

After three fantastic wins including a long awaited away victory at Richmond the Hatters found themselves once again in the play-offs.

A perfect day for rugby saw an extremely young and fit looking Dorking team arrive on Upper Richmond Road. Fair to say if Hatters were going to win it wouldn’t be due to superior speed or fitness.

With possibly one of the best squads the Hatters have seen this season it is right to say there was an air of confidence floating around during the warm-up. Unfortunately with the Hatters this usually leads to a somewhat complacent first 10 minutes, however with the words of Wigley and Longers ringing in their ears the Hatters started strong and sticking to their game plan of keeping it tight and being physical up front the likes of Foot, Burton and Ryan put in big carries.

This forward effort soon lead to a rolling maul in which Kinsky found himself at the back and able to dive over for the Hatters first score.

After a shaky restart the Hatters yet again found themselves in the opposition half. With Batman, Rory and Wigley facing the full 80 their efforts in the scrum were there for all to see as their experience dominated their opposite front row. From the progressing scrum Longers with a trademark blindside break accelerated away, stepped inside the fullback and dived over for a great try.

With a penalty from Crawford all was looking pretty at 15-0.

However, having been held off, the Hatters complacency finally crept in. A drop in intensity and indeed tackling ability saw the young Dorking side start to make ground. A well-placed box kick into the Hatters half, not normally a worry with the ever reliable Porter under the high ball. However clearly distracted by the ‘worldy’ sitting in the stands the ball slipped through his fingers and bounced nicely into the opposing wingers hands who cruised away under the posts.

Two well kicked penalties from the opposition saw the Hatters lead cut to just two points and it looked as though heads were going down with 10 minutes left on the clock and with the Hatters losing both Wilson and Jamie to injuries things weren’t looking good.

However some solid yards from the forwards and another controlled scrum finally saw the Hatters backs cut loose. With Jeff now playing 12 he arched wide, with Top Shagger coming on the dummy crash line, Crawford threw the ball flat to Jeff who created space before releasing Porter and Bond for a 2 on 1 with the full back. A well-timed pass from Porter saw the ever young Bond scamper over for a fantastic team try.

Sadly the Dorking team managed to hit back in the dieing seconds of the first half to again cut the lead to just two points 20-18 Hatters.

The less said about the second half the better as some questionable decisions from the referee began to creep into the match and some scrappy ill discipline from the Dorking forwards soured the first 20 minutes of the second half. Unfortunately this all lead to the Hatters dropping intensity once again and Dorking took the lead for the first time 25-20.

Thankfully with a full bench raring to come on Hatters rung the changes and whilst they weren’t fresh young legs coming onto the field, this was certainly made up for in experience. With Rosser, Mason, Davies, CPR all
coming on to help raise the Hatters and re-find some much needed intensity.

With the clock ticking away and sadly Crawford ‘keeping the game close’ with a couple of unfortunate penalty misses The Hatters were staring at a quarter final defeat.

One last throw of the dice saw a great Hatters back move result in Rosser sprinting down the wing only to be hauled just short and then what felt like 20 phases of Hatters forwards throwing themselves at the Dorking line the ball eventually came to Longers, who taking things into his own hands picked up, stepped and popped a lovely ball to the relieved Crawford to ‘Crash’ over from two meters out. 25-25. More relived still looking up he realized he had crashed over directly under the posts… an easy two points! Thankfully a little chip over saw the Hatters take the lead 27-25 and see out a hard fought victory to take them into the semi-finals.

A huge squad effort and a well deserved win.

Saturday 11 February 2017, vs Richmond Normans, Away
Result: 22 – 31 (W)

In record low temperatures, with sleet coming down and cries of “surely it ain’t on captain” and “can’t we just stay in the changing rooms” the atmosphere was pumped up for the Hatters’ last league game of the season. A match against table-topping Richmond, on the unfamiliar surface of grass suggested a tough afternoon ahead. However, the wintry weather, a desire to stay warm and absence of usual warm-up jokers (Longley) meant the Hatters actually looked well-prepared during the warm-up, an achievement given it was only the tenth match of the season.

As the Normans kicked off, Hatters dispelled this notion with the usual kick-off confusion that resulted in Richmond coming up with the ball and significant pressure on the Hatters defence. The warm-up however seemed to have worked to good effect as a sustained period of Richmond pressure was defended resolutely. After multiple phases without the ball and around five minutes of play, Jeff “Hitman” Ballard flew out of the line to deal with an overlap and brilliantly scared the opposition prop into coughing up possession into his gleeful arms. A simple 60 metre run-in followed, but not so simple as to be under the posts. Result, conversion missed.

Richmond came back again at the Hatters following good exit work by Crawford and Newcombe, but defensive ferocity remained, with Willis especially keen to impress his new lass (so keen was she that she came down to watch at the coldest match of the year so far, with friends) that he ended the opposition’s number 8’s involvement for the day. A turnover in the centre of the park on the Hatters 22 by Burton, was spotted in the usual Porter-manner as an opportunity for personal glory and after running around the mismatch and cantering into the opposition half, drew the opposition full-back and passed (no typo) to Jamie for a try in his favourite corner of any pitch. Conversion missed.

Richmond then came back into the game, but despite managing to get over the gain line were struggling to break the Hatters down. This resulted in an exasperated kick by the opposition fly-half that managed to evade all the Hatters defence on the bounce and subsequently Richmond were on the board. One fortunate try each, but a demonstration of how well the Hatters’ defensive organisation was working. From this set-back, the Hatters embarked on their longest spell of continued possession, with excellent forward running from Kinsky and strong pod organisation allowing significant continuity. Lesson here being training works. From one of these such drives, the Richmond defence was well spread and Hatters were beginning to get short of numbers. Wilson gainfully stepped into the slot for the “tiger” ball and as the guard stepped out of his defensive position in fear of the ball-carrying prowess, Newcombe waltzed through the gap, before drawing the full-back and passing to Wigley, on an excellent support line, for the captain to go in under the posts. Crawford converted easily. 30mins on the clock and Hatters led 17-5.

Richmond came back at the Hatters again, knowing the value of a score before half-time and this came with a well-worked forward try. Multiple phases of big men round the corner, bursting small holes in the Hatters defence, eventually told and the giant prop smashed through from a metre out to close the gap. With only moments left before half-time the Hatters planned to “keep it tight”. When Richmond kicked the ball deep into the Hatters 22, our resident Rugby League player, played it safe by slapping it into touch. Unfortunately, in one code of rugby that is illegal and whilst everyone was discussing the point, Hatters switched off to find the 9st fly-half had tapped and gone, diving between the forwards, and both sides went into the break all square. However, the celebrations of the Richmond team at this point, probably reflected the benefit of the hill and the Hatters, with a roll of the bench, came out ready to fire for the second half.

Good aggression from Hatters led to two penalties to re-establish the lead early in the second-half, despite the protestations of many Hatters playing at us being given a penalty right in front of the posts (guess who) and Crawford held his nerve. Richmond came back to score I think, before the moment of the match as Ted bosh man de Haan, ate his opposite number on a classic pick and go. Ted, giving away approximately 8 stone, picked up, but found himself in a neck lock being dragged backwards rapidly, before a couple of wriggles to free himself from contact and suddenly he flopped over to secure a bonus point try and establish a decent gap. Conversion missed.

Richmond then came back into the game with a sustained period camped on the Hatters’ line. With the Richmond scrum on the front-foot an awesome performance from the Hatters pack forced the number 8 to pick and then AA not once or twice, but three times (due to unplayable ball, knock-ons from others) made superb hits and a suitable nuisance of himself to slow the ball down. Ultimately, the defensive performance here, led by AA, was the moment the match was put to bed. When Richmond then tried to move the ball wide, a great turnover tackle from Crawford (no typo) allowed Hatters to clear and a resultant penalty at the other end sealed the win.

Special mentions to the returning Bond, who made huge metres after coming on at half-time, Rory, replacing Batman, both of whom had a tough shift in the front row, and the remaining forwards who had to make a lot of tackles given the conditions. Special praise to the “hit-man” for getting MOTM.

League table available here.

The win leapfrogged the Hatters above H&F II’s whilst CS Rugby still have a game to play and likely result is a third placed finish.

Saturday 28 January 2017, vs CS Rugby League, Home
Result: 45 – 31 (W)

The day started in true Hatters form; following a call from captain Wigley for no late call-offs and for promptness, Grant, whose ankles are clearly made of glass, cried off after his ankle gave way cutting some ‘sick’ shapes on one or two sticky Friday-night dance floors. This was followed by a good proportion of Hatters turning up at 11am for the prompt Wigley 10:30am start… I blame South West trains…

From here on in, however, it was a military operation… In the forwards anyway… Whilst the forwards practised their line-out ‘moves’ circa 1985 for 50 minutes the backs deliberated over how to ensure Jack Porter could be used in attack but hidden in defence. They eventually decided that reshuffling the back line at every breakdown was the most sensible plan and promptly played some touch and chatted about weekend plans.

With the new inclusion of contact into the team warm-up, the Hatters started strongly for the first time this season with some hard defence shown in the first 5 minutes, especially up front from Ted and Millsy leading to a number of turnovers. A few plays later saw the Hatters in the opposition’s 22. In all fairness the clear confusion of who was playing where in the Hatters back line was mirrored in the opposition’s faces as Porter picked a lovely line taking an inside pass from Crawford to score under the posts.

Credit must be given to the Civil Service who immediately came back strong to score a well-worked try of their own, despite some serious defence on the Hatters line that ‘Defence coach’ Longers could be proud of.

Yet more hard work up front and a perfectly working scrum and line-out; we are as yet unsure as to why this is, whether it is indeed practice makes perfect or the fact our resident Batman answered his captain’s distress signal for the first time since November, or indeed, and this is the more popular belief ,that finally Millsy has started annunciating properly and we can now all understand him. After some hard yards gained from the likes of CPR and Wardy the ball came to Crawford and, with little outside him, attacked the line himself only to find two Civil Servicemen waiting for him. A flick out the back saw Batman cutting a fine line to within a metre of the line, not sure who was more surprised: Crawford for taking some contact or Batman for finding a gap with 20m open field ahead. A quick breakdown and fast hands from Longers and Wilson saw Jeff go over in the corner for a fine team try.

Again credit to the CS, who were definitely one of the more attacking teams the Hatters have faced this season, came back and scored again and it would probably have been more had it not been for the defensive work of Peck and Willis on the flanks which secured a couple of fantastic turnovers for the Hatters enabling them to clear their lines.

Yet another period of fine ball-carrying from the Hatters forwards and some seriously hard yards from the newly formed centre combo of Wilson and Jamie saw another fine team try finished off, for his brace, by Jeff in the corner.

This was mirrored moments later but on the other side of the pitch as Longers picked and ran blind before sending Wardy over in the corner right on the stroke of half time.

This took us to the break with the Hatters ahead but not out of sight. Not content with talking a good game in court all week, Captain Wigley with a rousing speech urged his men to continue the hard defensive display that had left the 15 men of the CS looking battered at half time.

The second half was played at an even faster pace than the first and all play was with with the Hatters for the first 30 minutes. Some top running from the back three of Hughes, Porter and Ballard saw the CS back line cut to shreds a number of times with only some last ditch defence keeping the Hatters out. As time ticked by frustration of almost scoring was starting to set in and the CS were beginning to gain confidence from this. However the ever cool, calm and controlled figure of Longers decided it was time to settle things down. Picking up from the base of a ruck he swiftly threw a lovely dummy before scuttling off under the posts for a fine solo try.

This seemed to stem the frantic play and allowed the Hatters to show what they were made of. Some big defence from the bench saw the ball turned over on the half way line and what followed was the try of the game, if not the season, as some quick hands from Longers, and Hughes found Sav on the wing (not sure what he was doing there but it worked) who popped the ball back inside to Longers who popped the ball to Jamie cutting a great line to find himself one on one with the fullback a deft grubbed kick saw the little Aussie slide over for a great try in the corner.

With things going swimmingly and the replacement forwards turning the screw on the opposition, Gabb decided it was getting all too easy, either that or the three minutes on the pitch had felt like 30 so he decided to take a breather in the sin bin. His protests of innocence as he left the pitch and in the bar afterwards would have fitted better in Wigley’s chambers especially once he started naming names – apparently Mr Porter, unsurprisingly, was the culprit of referee back chat not the well-respected Gabb… The jury is out.

The final Hatters score saw CPR finding himself in the back line, calling a snake ball, cutting a line off 10 and scoring under the posts… The stark reality that training really does help on occasion…

The less said about the final 10 minutes the better. However, it needs to be noted. Clearly the excitement of all these tries had gone to the Hatters’ heads, none more so than pantomime villain, Jack Porter, who, not content with 70 minutes of man of the match worthy play, decided a 45m drop goal would seal the deal… Sadly all it sealed was a bonus point try for the CS, as his kick, reminiscent and on a par with ‘Top Shagger’s’ earlier attempt this season, sliced open the opposition winger who swiftly ran most of the pitch, a few phases later and try time and bonus point for the CS…

In the end a fantastic and hard-fought victory for the Hatters seeing their best attacking display of the season and bar a few slipped tackles in the final 10 a much much improved defensive display.

A good effort from Man of the Match Wardy (1 try, numerous carries and tackles and zero penalties… Must have been an off day for Wardy) and Dick of the Day Gabb, Porter will get his punishment after scuttling off quickly, in the club house pint race saw a double victory for The Hatters.

Saturday 14 January 2017, vs Kew Occasionals Friendly, Away
Result: 17 – 43 (L)

The Hatters emerged from their festive slumber on Saturday for their first game of 2017 against old friends Kew Occasionals. Unfortunately for the Hatters those excesses of the Christmas period appeared to have lingered as they fell to a 43-17 defeat at the Richmond Athletic Ground against the Oxbridge old boys side.

What unfolded was an open and exciting game, it is a rare event for the Hatters to come up against a side who play with even less structure than they do, but in Kew they came up against a side who have made it something of an art form. That led to an offload-heavy, wide, and expansive game of rugby, and in the first half both sides reveled in that style, scoring some brilliant tires as they went into the break with Kew slightly ahead at 19-17.

The Hatters had scored three tires with Tom Longley scoring a typically sniping brace either side of a strong effort from Adam Alexander, while Kew, as is their way, had broken away from range to score three of their own. In attack the Hatters looked like they had the patience and quality to be able to continue to unpick the Kew defence, however without the ball things had been far from perfect.

At half time some passionate words from Longley and Newcombe addressed that issue directly and honestly but it would appear that a month of turkey and beer was ready to claim its victims as the Hatters slumped to a fairly dismal second half performance.

Within minutes they had conceded a further two tries, and while they did manage to stem the pace of the tide after that, a combination of tired and disorganised defence, and some creative and exciting attacking play from Kew, saw the Hatters fall to a 43-17 loss.

It was a disappointing way for the Hatters to begin 2017, but with a week off ahead of their first league game of the year, at home against the Civil Service, and claims to be ‘at least 20% fitter’ by then, a big improvement can be expected as the play-offs loom.

Saturday 10 December 2016, vs London Cornish 2nd XV, Zoo Sports Shield, Home
Result: 19 – 24 (L)

Following a week of rest the Hatters jubilantly assembled at the club at the crack of dawn (10:45am) for what was sure to be tough battle against a local foe looking for revenge (Park having closely turned over London Cornish back in October). With Cornish seemingly having pitched tents at the club overnight they were the first on to the pitch. Whilst the Kernow boys always look well-drilled the team facing Park today clearly had their heads switched on and wanted the win. With some solid team run-throughs under their belt the boys went back in the changing rooms for a last-minute team talk.

Frustrated with a few unlucky losses of late, Skipper Joe Wigley put the money spent on his public school education to good use and gave an impassioned speech before kick-off; once more unto the breach dear friends…. Ever the orator, some of the lesser read lads in the team had to ask man of the people and chief strategist Tom Longley to translate and set out the game plan in layman’s terms.

As the clock struck midday, fly-half Ali Crawford began proceedings with a well-placed kick into the heart of the Cornish pack. The pressure during the first 10 minutes was palpable. Park’s pack asserted themselves in the loose and the back-line wasn’t letting anyone though. It was to be the Hatters that would take first blood, Jamie Payne using his rugby league skills to cut a devastating line and cross the whitewash. Crawford lined up in front of the posts for the conversion but opted at the last minute to aim for the 7th hole at the Roehampton club instead. 5-0 to Park.

Park pressure continued with Crawford and Longers using their winkle pickers to pin Cornish down in their own half. Unfortunately for Cornish, their hooker’s throwing was about as straight as Ian McKellen touching Frodo’s precious in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That meant Davies and Pears were starting to pick off their opposite men at will in the line. Park’s endeavours were rewarded with a 70-metre interception try from the silky skills of Jack Porter. Crawford remembered he was supposed to kick it over the post this time and duly did. 12-0 and with it the half.

Over the first forty flanker Chrissy Scott picked up a sore groin and had to call time on his notably contribution. According to an undisclosed source we’re pleased to report all was back in good working order later that evening! Mr Scott left a void filled by none other than Stephen Ward. Wardy, as ever, telling all who would listen that it was TFL who were at fault for his ridiculous decision to live in North London and then arrive two hours late! Play resumed and whilst the pack had played well in open play and the line-outs in the first half, unfortunately the same could not be said of the scrum. Missing the dedicated tight-head skillset (aka boring in and general illegal tactics) of Barath Leigh (Batman) and Sam Dick, Park were at sixes and sevens in the scrum.

As ever, (Super) Ted de Han (and debutant Rory) literally put their necks on the line for the team but, needless to say, scrum-time was a challenge. Park did manage to turn one scrum over, which caused second row, Chris Pears Ryding to scream “That’s how you scrum!!!”. Minutes later the boisterous northerner was eating humble rubber crumb yet again as another Hatters scrum marched backwards at a pace which would have made the Dunkirk evacuations look positively sedate….. Pressure was mounting and the penalty count began to add up. With only 3 penalties given away in the first half the Hatters boys were really starting to let themselves down, particularly around the break-down. Cornish managed to sneak in 2 quick tries and it was all to play for. Park 12 Cornish 17.

With five minutes left to play, Park had a line-out in-side the Cornish 22 and were determined to pick up points. Wigley threw to Pears who set up a driving maul. Park marched forward and the eight man effort walked away with points (claimed by Davies) on the scoreboard. A classy conversion from the touchline from Crawford sneaked a Hatters lead at 19-17. Re-starts have been a contentious issue this season at the Rock and once again it would prove to be the thorn in the Hatters’ side. A well-executed kick-off landed mid-air on the 10 meter line and was cleanly taken by the Cornish winger. As play unfolded Park managed to steal back possession and it looked like they were about to close out the game with a narrow victory.

That wasn’t how the cookie crumbled in the end and an ill-fated Hatters knock-on afforded Cornish one last scrum and from that, a well worked seven points. For the last time in 2016 Park would leave the pitch, devastated by a 19-24 loss in a game which was theirs for the taking. Perhaps the most unexpected scene of the day was seeing Jack Porter give a speech on discipline to the lads after the game.

The proof is in the pudding but I think it’s fair to say many people will be keeping a close eye on his on field conduct in the New Year. You can’t keep good men down for long and donning their Christmas fancy dress the Hatters threw themselves into the Christmas festivities at the club. As 2016 draws to a close the boys will no doubt reflect on those games which just slipped through their fingers this year and consider what needs to be done to start 2017 on the right footing!

Saturday 26 November 2016, vs Hammersmith & Fulham 2nd XV, Zoo Sports Shield, Away
Result: 21 – 15 (L)

Injuries and the Autumn internationals having taken their toll, the Hatters had to call in the cavalry – Lieutenant Bond of the Life Guards duly obliged bringing with him two of his comrades, Stewart and Morris, for their first caps for the Hatters at wing and in the back row respectively. With Crawford en route to Cardiff and Alexander and Kelly still carrying injuries, Cooper returned at fly-half and Wilson and Payne lined up in the centres.

Despite a rather unfamiliar starting line-up, the Hatters approached kick-off confident after two wins against the Hammers already this season. While the Hatters started strongly, Hammersmith and Fulham were the first to draw blood with a breakaway try against the run of play. With the conversion added, after barely 5 minutes played, the Hatters trailed by 7 points. The Hatters tried to rally themselves but were unable to string phases together. Before long they again fell foul of a runaway try leaving them 14 points behind.

The forwards began to set out a solid platform with the set-piece, reinforced this week by Dom Ryan, functioning well and strong running from Ward and Davies in the engine room. On the stroke of half time, a well-worked move from a centre-field scrum ended with Porter finishing and crossing the whitewash for the Hatters’ first try of the match: 14-5. After the break, Park, with the lion’s share of possession, threw everything at the home side but were unable to capitalise for some while.

On a rare occasion when the Hammers had some second- half possession, following an excellent covering tackle from Stewart, the weight of numbers paid dividends and the Hammers were able to extend their lead to 21-10. With it all to do the Hatters’ task was made more challenging when at the following restart, with commendable enthusiasm but terrible timing, Wardy took out the Hammers catcher in the air, winding himself quite dramatically in the process.

Fortunately, he was rewarded with 10 minutes on the sideline to catch his breath. Down to 14, the Hatters still had the lion’s share of possession but it wasn’t until Ward returned from the bin that they could score through a scything line from the well-rested back rower. While the Hatters, through the ever dangerous Porter, managed to claw one back in the dying minutes it was too little too late.

While credit must be given for a decent performance in difficult circumstances, the Hatters will be disappointed to have let an eminently winnable match slip through their fingers. Longers was awarded man of the match after another excellent outing while Wardy received further recognition for his flying antics as DotD. Thanks to newcomers, Stewart and Morris for their excellent debut performances and to Hammersmith and Fulham for their generous hospitality. All eyes turn to the final fixture of 2017 at home to London Cornish II on this Saturday KO 12:00pm.

Saturday 19 November 2016, vs Merlins Invitational XV, Friendly, Home
Result: 36 – 22 (W)

Turning up on Saturday to find an opposition that clearly had about 5 years and a 3 second per 100m advantage over the Hatters it would have been fair to predict a tough day at the office on the vast 4G pitch for the Hatters. However, with a pre-match routine that any Marine Commanding officer would have been happy with Vice-Captain Longers soon had the team prepped and ready for battle. The First 20 minutes saw some serious hard yards earnt with strong running from Dick, Wigley and Henners up front and; lacking the finesse JK brings to the 13 shirt, some confrontational ball carries from Wilson, desperately hoping to hold onto the 13 shirt next week to achieve a personal record of two consecutive Hatters games in the same position.

A strong performance in the scrum and some increasingly common continuity in the backs saw a try for Jamie, scoring in his usual corner to get the Hatters on the board. Despite endless tackles on the flanks from Willis and Peck, Merlins did manage to sneak over for a try of their own in the first half but with Top Shagger putting in a performance we haven’t seen from him since tour, turning ball over, making yards and even crossing the whitewash to lay down a marker for best 40 minutes seen all season… We are hoping his dip in stamina in the second half isn’t a representation of his performances in other areas…

The first half ended on a high for the Hatters. After more hard work at the break-down from Batman and Mills and some strong running from Kinsky, the Hatters found themselves 5 metres out. Clearly Porter’s ego has reached new heights as he convinced himself that taking a crash ball on the opposition line was a good idea… Thankfully, having been put in his place by the jubilant forward opposition, Sam Dick stepped up to show Porter there is a time and a place for flair and footwork and the 5-metre line isn’t one of them, as he barreled over. A fine touch line conversion from Hurst saw out the first half.

Clearly feeling sorry for the young Merlin boys the Hatters decided to add to their average age at half time bringing on the ever young Mason and Rosser onto the wings. Clearly nobody had given Rosser the message that you lose your pace as you get older as he soon rolled back the years to make two fine try-saving tackles. Unfortunately it was a sign of things to come for the Hatters as Merlins, clearly the fitter team, started to get on top. With Hatters losing Longers after a head collision and with Will Scott returning to put in two smashing high tackles, getting shown the yellow and returning to his seat on the bench after just 5 minutes it was a tough 20 minutes for the Hatters in which Merlins scored two quick tries to set up a nervous final 10 minutes.

Thankfully with some fresh legs from the bench, the Hatters man aged to stop the rot and get back into enemy territory where Porter finally got his try after a chip into the corner from Crawford bounced nicely into Porter’s arms as he spun round the fullback to score. With the forwards wanting the last say the Hatters got themselves camped on Merlins’ try line and, after sustained dominance in the scrum, they got their reward as the referee awarded the penalty try. This left Top Shagger to wake up from his 30 minute power nap to take on the drop goal in front of the posts and his soon to be inlaws… Sadly it sailed between the posts…

Saturday 5 November 2016, vs Chobham 2nd XV, Zoo Sports Shield, Away
Result: 18 – 15 (L)

After last week’s backs against the wall defeat to the Civil Service, the Hatters arrived in Chobham apparently looking forward to a gentle run around and an easy victory. It didn’t quite work out like that. Having lost the toss, Park started downhill with the wind behind them. While they knew that those advantages were worth at least 15 points, Chobham had other ideas.

After an early penalty from Ali put the Hatters three points up, shortly after the restart, Wardy was lucky to get away only with a yellow after a decidedly dodgy tackle. Park managed only to concede three points in the ten minutes where they were down to 14 but they looked rattled. The momentum was with Chobham as the Hatters fell off tackles and were beaten in the contact, saved only by good covering tackles from debutant, Cameron, in the midfield and Savage, who had replaced the injured Mason, on the wing. From the only real pressure Park enjoyed, Longers managed to put Hurst over for a score in the left hand corner after a strong fivemetre scrum.

The half finished 8-3 with Park well aware that they had done neither themselves nor the slope justice. The Hatters started the second-half well with a talking-to from Longers ringing in their ears. The pack stepped up and started to put in the hard yards with Foot carrying particularly well. This fighting spirit was not dampened despite Kelly being forced off injured and another back rower (Wardy) having to fill in the backs. Indeed the introduction of Benedict on the flank added to the urgency with which the Hatters were now playing as he made an excellent run only to be pulled down by a high tackle.

While Park conceded a try around the outside which took the score to 8-8, continued pressure with strong running from Wardy in the centres allowed the Hatters to put together some phases and saw de Haan take a tiger from some 15 yards out and barrel through several tackles travelling barely inches above the ground to go over under the posts. With the straightforward conversion, Park were leading 15-8.

However, despite continuing to fight hard, that margin was not sufficient to carry them home as a good break from Chobham against the run of play brought up the draw. A quickly conceded penalty saw Chobham take the lead with less than ten minutes to go. Hatters now gave it everything. I counted 13 in a well-worked maul that would have taken them over had it not been brought down illegally but it was not to be. While a draw may have been a fair result, Park lost a perfectly winnable game after an abject first 30 minutes.

While a strong rally in the second half was commendable, it was too little too late. With a break next week, the Hatters will need to get to winning ways on 19th when they host Merlins.

Saturday 29 October 2016, vs Civil Service Rugby 2nd XV, Zoo Sports Shield, Away
Result: 12 – 29 (L)

Arriving with 16 men to face an extremely well warmed up CS team was always going to be tough. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when Jamie was staring down 80 minutes in his “tighty whities” on the wing. He managed to source some shorts and the Hatters managed to pull together a fine fifteen to lay down the challenge. If it was ever a question that JK was hungover this Saturday afternoon, the doubts were quashed in the first play when he decided to try and tackle using his double vision and ended up in a different post code from the one his opposite man used to jog through under the posts. 7-0 after 2 minutes wasn’t part of the Hatters’ plan.

The next 15 minutes was far more even with the Hatters having some sustained pressure in the CS half with strong ball carrying from Kinsky and Burton. The Hatters looked good in attack both out wide and in close, but CS’s pace out wide exposed the intoxicated Hatters defence yet again for another try to extend their lead to 12. A retaliation was what was asked for and it arrived in the form of continuous phase play from the forwards contributed to by some evasive running in the backs from a woken-up JK and Porter. A scrum 5 metres out was well worked at the base and Longley went over in the corner to bring the score to 12-5 and there was a game on.

As the legs began to tire and the questionable fitness of the Hatters was stretched CS were creating more opportunities and could easily have added a number of further tries, but defiant defence across the field, particularly from the front five, limited CS to only one try before the half. The second half started well for the Hatters with more sustained pressure based on a strong set piece performance, but unfortunately this could not be turned in to points due to a lack of accuracy and good last-ditch defence from CS. The Hatters’ most successful attack spawned from defence as for the second week running James Wall soars at the lineout for the Bs Porter took a length of the field interception under the sticks for 7 points.

As the game became very tight it also became a lot more difficult for the Hatters as Pears-Ryding went down injured and then Beale went off with a hurty (dislocated) elbow. The cause was worsened when Porter’s mouth got the worse of him and the referee asked him to take a 10 minute breather and think about what he’d done, not just in this game but in life more generally. As CS rang the changes and kept launching waves of attack the Hatters defence stood strong for the most part allowing two further tries to CS effectively capitalising on the overlaps they naturally had with the men advantage.

The final score ended 29-12, providing the Hatters with plenty of confidence to return the favour back in Barnes later in the season with a strengthened squad. Payne’s first game on the flank, after moving from the wing covering for injury, was highly impressive, consistently making strong tackles and being a thorn in the CS side. Season debuts from Ryan and Kinsky were impressive also and a depleted back line showed plenty of attacking endeavour against a strong CS line-up.

The Hatters travel to Chobham in good spirits this week trying to achieve the double after beating them in a tight encounter at home earlier in the year.

Saturday 21 October 2016, vs Hammersmith & Fulham 2nd XV, Zoo Sports Shield, Away
Result: 41 – 25 (W)

It was take 2 for the Hatters vs Hammers this season following the unfortunate events on a Friday evening earlier in the season. It was a sunny, crisp early afternoon and the Hatters were slow out of the blocks committing several mistake and allowing the Hammers centre to run in untouched with an overlap. This jolted the Hatters into action with an injection of intensity and accuracy. The front 5 led from the front with Tom Mills and Batman making consistently dominant carries. Kelly was back towards his best, picking threatening lines off his three quarter partners, with one such incision taking him over the white wash from 30 metres out to open the scoring for the Hatters. The conversion was added by the Jekyll and Hyde boot of Crawford.

The Hammers launched their own response and had significant periods of pressure in the Hatters 22, allowed by the fabled Hatters’ discipline that not even Joe Wigley could defend in court (although he’d give it a bloody good go). Resilient defending and ferocious breakdown play from Willis and Goodall caused the Hammers to force a pass one too many and Porter was there, overjoyed at the opportunity to avoid making a tackle by taking the interception the length of the pitch. His hand in the air celebration from 10 yards out was just what the capacity crows deserved for their unwavering support.

Once the Hatters had opened their scoring the running rugby was there for all to see, including for the 5 spectators. A good first half for the Hatters was capped off by a flowing back line move ending with Wilson rolling back the years to tumble over in the corner after a fine catch and pass display from Alexander that any u12 Northern Irish rugby team would be proud of. The second half started just as well as the first ended with a textbook kick return gathered by Mills and a good clear out allowed another back line move to end with a Wilson score in the corner. Pressure and points came thick and fast then for the Hatters as the set piece began to take authority.

A botched Hammers line out led to a quick free kick from which Beale “put Kelly away”; Kelly took gift with both arms and converted the stellar assist by rounding two players, fending his oppo and only just making it to the try line before being caught up by said oppo. The Hatters’ final points came on a Porter kick chase allowing him to bag himself a brace. The final highlight for the Hatters faithful was to see Beale told in no uncertain terms that he had “one of those faces” and that “you’ll do” after being binned for hands in the ruck – Hatters players were in stunned belief at the ridiculous decision; David Beale has never been in a ruck… A creditable resurgence from the Hammers bagged them a few late tries that flattered them on the score board.

All in all a good performance by the Hatters that saw a great performance by Millsy win him a deserved MOTM. Next week will need a similar if not better performance against the Civil Service.

Saturday 8 October 2016, vs London Cornish 2nd XV, Away, Zoo Sports Shield
Result: 18 – 30 (W)

After a couple of friendlies, the Hatters (other than Wardy who had apparently been waylaid at home) arrived in good time, relishing the prospect of a league tie against London Cornish. After a decent warm-up, Park started well, putting pressure on Cornish with a ferocious defence from the outset. Within minutes this pressure paid off as Porter was able to gather a loose ball and, with an impressive burst of pace, out-strip two or three opposition defenders before shockingly passing to allow JK a stroll in under the posts.

With the line-out again struggling, the Hatters only had limited possession but made use of it wisely with Goodall and, man of thematch, Willis on the flank battling well at the breakdown to ensure the ball was retained once won. This contributed to a penalty within striking distance which Crawford was able to knock over with ease, keeping Park out of reach. Maria Castellina gives a long pass from the breakdown Alice Lovatt about to set up a Park attack. However, it was in defence that Park made Cornish pay with some big hits flying in, particularly from Wardy at eight and Wilson in the centres. This impressive defensive display allowed the men in black and yellow only to pick up two penalties – poor recompense for the possession they enjoyed.

Yet another break caused by a huge Park defensive effort saw JK picking up the ball from the base of a ruck, and, not perturbed by his lack of pace over the last few matches, giving it one last shot. To the Hatters’ delight, he finally found his outside break that had been missing this season, taking on the opposing winger, rounding him and tearing up the ground to finish in the corner for his second.

Intelligent kicking from Longers at nine kept Cornish pinned back in their half allowing him to pick up a brace of tries in the process. As the whistle went for half-time, the scores stood at 25-6 in Park’s favour. Shortly after the break the forwards, no doubt refreshed by the half-time oranges and doing their best to atone for a malfunctioning lineout, ground the Cornish pack into submission from a five-metre scrum to allow Longers to claim his hat-trick. Despite Park having now broken 30 points, Cornish, to their credit, kept coming.

While the Hatters defence was excellent, both in its organisation and in its effectiveness, Cornish did sneak a further try to bring the score to 30-18. However, despite a final flurry, Park kept them out for the remainder to secure a bonus point win.

Friday 30 September 2016 vs Hammersmith & Fulham 2nd XV, Home, Friendly
Result 15 – 14 (W)

Excitement levels in the Rosslyn Park Hatters’ camp were beginning to reach fever pitch on Friday 30th September. The toughest selection decisions of the season so far saw some difficult choices being taken by the management, who in turn demanded that all players step up and prove their worth on the pitch. With the floodlights at the Rock illuminated, Park once more went into battle with their old foe, Hammersmith and Fulham. During an extremely cagey opening 10 minutes Park’s pack began to assume their dominance and were rightly rewarded with a penalty 30 metres out. With Crawford caressing the ball over the posts with the finesse of a ballerina performing the closing pirouette in Swan Lake, Park were in the ascendancy.

With the wind in their sails the boys continued to camp in their opponents’ half and were rewarded with a scrum within touching distance of the Hammers’ 22. This would be the first time the front eight would pack down against one another and tensions were running high. Just as the game was about to begin again an extremely unfortunate turn of events meant the ref had to be taken off the pitch for medical attention. As the players looked to keep warm it was deemed the ref couldn’t return to the field of play. Both captains agreed that the opportunity to play under the lights should not be wasted and Rogan (the Hammers’ Captain) admirably stepped up and agreed to officiate a friendly. No longer a league game, play began to take a more open and creative tone.

The Hammers were the first side to draw blood by running some hard and fast lines which included knocking the otherwise granite defence of big George Burton for six. With some quick passes out wide a well-worked try followed, 3-7 and it was all to play for. Following a disappointing cricket season at Barnes, Park’s mercurial winger – Jack Porter – chose this day as his first game to slip back into the fold. With a golden goose step at his disposal and a fierce turn of pace he made quick work of chipping over the Hammers’ defence, gathering his own kick and crossing over the line. 10-7 and that was the half.

Restarts have caused the Hatters some challenges this season and the same could be said as the second half resumed. A spilled catch from the kick-off saw the Hammers regain possession and begin to build some phases. Under sustained pressure the Hatters continued to hold their defensive line, not least due to their wolfpack mentality and animalistic noises in D. Unfortunately centre Dave Beale picked up concussion for his tackling endeavours (some say he was inspecting the artificial grass before the Hammers’ 12 crashed into him). After many phases of play the Hammers finally broke Park’s line, converting their try to take the tally to 10-14.

Cometh the man, cometh the hour. After thinking he might not play for Park this season Chrissy Scott joined the pack and the expectant crowd could feel he had fire in his belly and was carrying more beef than a Ginger Pig delivery van. Having caught a Hammers’ return kick he decided to grab the bull by the horns and run straight through the Hammers’ defensive line, opening the game right up. With Park’s spirits lifted and mere minutes left on the clock it seems fitting that it was young Mr Scott who crossed the line and secured victory for the Hatters.

Park would like to thank Hammersmith and Fulham for a very wellfought game, with a particular appreciation going to Rogan for taking on officiating responsibilities. Next weekend Hatters’ skipper Joe Wigley returns and will lead the boys as they continue their league campaign away to London Cornish.

Saturday 24 September 2016, vs Richmond Jutes, Away, Friendly
Result: 26 – 24 (L)

The Hatters made the short trip to Richmond RFC on Saturday after a whirlwind few days that had seen various proposed opponents come and go after London Irish Nomads pulled out earlier in the week for lack of numbers. Nevertheless a game against Rosslyn Park’s big local rivals is always to be relished, and the Hatters turned up to the Athletic Ground in fine spirit, though looking more like a Barbarians side than anything else as continued kit woes left the players needing to wear shorts and socks from their University days or from former clubs, much to the amusement of Richmond with their four sides on the day in pristine club colours.

The Hatters took that Barbarian spirit in a positive manner though, bringing it into their style of play as backs and forwards mixed intuitively, with two of the four Hatters tries coming through good interchange of passing between backs and forwards, however it was not quite enough for the Hatters to deliver the win as they drew 24-24 with their hosts. Or, possibly, lost 24-26 – more on that later. Richmond took an early lead, but scores from David Beale, deputizing at scrum half for the afternoon, and full back James Wilson gave the Hatters the half time lead.

The half time break saw the introduction of a pair of Hatters stalwarts in tighthead Tim Leigh and back row Will Scott, whose fitness was remarkable for a man who described his own conditioning as ‘heavy’ following three weeks of steak and wine on honeymoon. Wilson quickly secured his brace early in the half, before Richmond pulled one back, keeping the game in the balance. A try from Stephen Ward following great hands from Ted De Haan with little over fifteen minutes to go suggested that the Hatters had the game signed and sealed, however through a combination of a lack of concentration, or perhaps fitness, and good Richmond play, the home side clawed their way back in. Two breakaway tries in those closing stages were enough to draw Richmond level, both tries set up by turnovers from their outstanding openside and skipper, who was a thorn in the Hatters side right from the opening moments.

The second was the final play of the game, leveling the game at 24-24, which was, at least officially, the final score. Now to those extra two points. With the conversion in front of the posts almost a guarantee of the win for Richmond, the Hatters set up behind the line to charge the kick, in the vain hope that it might just work. Naturally, they did not get near it, but the pressure did force the Richmond fly half to shank his kick a little. Nevertheless it did squeak over, and the Hatters marched up to shake hands with their victorious hosts and to berate themselves for throwing away a comfortable lead. However it soon emerged that the referee had in fact decided that the kick had missed and that the game was a draw. In the spirit of rugby values and a friendly rivalry though, the Hatters are very happy to acknowledge that the kick did indeed go over and that the game finished 26-24 in the home side’s favour.

Next up for the Hatters is a game against Hammersmith and Fulham this Friday, 30th September, under the lights at The Rock at 20.00. All at the club, and beyond, are encouraged to come along and support on what should be an exciting evening, with rumours of a return to the field for the first time this season from Jack Porter and possibly even Pat Jawich.

Saturday 17 September 2016, vs Chobham 2nd XV, Home, Zoo Sports Shield
Result: 21 – 12 (W)

After pushing Richmond close for 60 minutes last week, their second round match against Chobham was a great opportunity to get the season back on track. Given their troubles with the line out last week, it was great to see Joe Wigley hitting his man whilst it was the opposition who apparently couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a line out throw. The first half was a lot closer than the Hatters would have liked given their supremacy at scrum time. Following sustained early pressure by the Hatters in the Chobham 22, Dan Willis broke from the maul only to knock the ball on when tackled at the line. Thankfully all was not lost as a few minutes later a well worked backs move saw Tom Longley nudge the ball through that sat up nicely for Jamie Payne who saw off his opposite man and finished in the corner.

It looked like Hatters would go into the break with a bit of breathing space but, unbeknownst to the Hatters, Chobham had a sixteenth player on the pitch in the form of the Hatters’ Adam Alexander. He rescued Chobham’s first half with a precision cross field kick, as he attempted to clear the Hatters’ line, that landed in the hands of the opposition who took full advantage and ran in the try.

It was a busy half for Alexander who was yellow carded as a result of repeated infringements by the team. Things could have been worse for the Hatters had it not been for Chobham’s 10 who failed to take advantage of several penalties by missing touch more often than not. It was a slow start to the second half following a raft of changes at the break, but things began to take shape, and Ed Peck made an impact with some good running rugby and a couple of steals at the breakdown. Despite the fresh legs, Chobham turned pressure into points as they ran in another try.
There could have been another for Chobham had Longley not scythed down the Chobham winger with one of his trademark tackles that turned out to be the catalyst which brought about a momentum swing. The Hatters spurned a couple of try-scoring opportunities with some loose passing but were able to maintain the pressure and a well executed line out in the corner enabled the ball to be shipped out to Josh Kelly, who dissected the Chobham defence and went in under the posts. Whilst the Hatters prevented Chobham from earning a losing bonus point, things could have been better had they been able to capitalise on their territorial dominance and try scoring opportunities. Credit must be given to the Chobham back row who took every opportunity to slow the Hatters’ ball and pilfering it on more than one occasion at the breakdown.

Saturday 10 September 2016, vs Richmond Normans, Home, Zoo Sports Shield
Result: 12 – 24 (L)

After a tight first 40 minutes in which the Hatters had the best of possession and territory, they went in 5-0 up at the break after Grant Somerville finished off an excellent try in the corner with the last play of the half. After the turnaround, Park began to tire a little as Richmond introduced a number of reinforcements to the fray. As they tired in the third quarter, the Hatters fell off a couple of first-up tackles and started to panic with the ball in hand. In that period, Richmond managed to run in three tries, one of which was extremely well-worked leading to an overlap on the outside, the other two arising from kicks through and a straight foot-race.

Park missed the opportunity to stem the tide as confusion reigned at the line-out, causing the loss of three in quick succession. While Richmond managed one more score, the Hatters showed great spirit and determination in the final ten minutes to hold out on their line and respond with the last word through a hard-won try from debutant prop, Sam Dick, converted by Ali Crawford. At the final whistle, while the Hatters had much to be proud of for the first league game of the season, not least huge effort and commitment on the part of all for the entire game, one couldn’t help thinking they let this one slip through their fingers.

© Rosslyn Park FC 2017