“This is the first time I’ve come here and been able to see the sea.” So said the affable chap from Park House, beer in hand and, evidently, channel in sight. The skies were indeed clear but there was a sod of a wind and, on the field, Hastings and their visitors served up a brutal, bruising battle whose result was in doubt almost until the final minute.
Hastings could proudly lay claim to being top of the table before the match started. They started with a game against Bromley last week (which they won) whilst the rest of the division only got going today. As is usual at this level the pre-match conversation from all directions was how many players were missing from both teams. I swear, if you believe the talk every week, no team can ever start a match with fifteen fit players they’d be happy to call a first team. No matter, both sides were well drilled and the match was tight as a drum. It helped that the ref missed a lot for both sides so there was a tasty edge to proceedings throughout.
Hastings opened the scoring with a well run-in try and had a narrow advantage, 10-8, at the break. Park House play a solid, up-front game, and frequently looked like they might break through but they never were able to, either on the field or on the scoreboard. They held a slight 16-15 advantage going into the dying stages and had a favourable wind but it was Hastings who added two late tries to take the points. They also grabbed a second bonus point in two games and so can still lay claim to leading the division.
There was a decent number of folk enjoying the spectacle and, thankfully, the threatened rain held off. This was a damn enjoyable and competitive encounter. I took some woeful photos of it here.
Welcome to rugby union in Sussex Division Four (East). We’re so far down what passes for a pyramid here that it’s hard to work out what level we’re talking about. At a rough guess it would take something like eleven direct promotions and a thousand pages of red tape for a team down here to make it all the way to the top. Today, all anyone was really bothered about was whether the visitors would make it all the way to fifteen. They didn’t have even enough men and relied on a fair few (estimates varied) from the Hastings areas to get up to strength – and even then needed the Cinque Ports touch judge to step up to the plate when fatigue meant more numbers were required. It is to everyone’s credit that whilst it was expectedly ragged at times, there was a pretty decent game of rugby to watch at all.
St Leonards Cinque Ports won 31-10. I know this because the twitter feed told me. I lost count when I didn’t see the indications following a couple of conversions. The man who runs the twitter feed also runs the line, leads the training, takes match notes and, today, gets to play some rugby for his club’s opponents. There are hundreds like him in all sports up and down the country every weekend. That doesn’t diminish the individual effort – rather, to me, it shows what an under appreciated army we have sustaining sport in this country.
The match was a bit odd. Lewes probably had the majority of possession, almost certainly had the majority of territory, and yet were never really that close on the scoreboard. Ports had a well organised defence (although a team who’d met each other before would have stretched them more) and some excellent quick breakers. That was the difference.
It was a lovely day to watch some rugby. Obviously my solution to the numbers problem would have been to get them to drop to 13 a side and cap the phases allowed before losing possession at six but even allowing for the obvious deficiencies of insisting on too many flankers there was some good football on display at times. The sun shone brightly and it was pleasantly warm. The match was hosted by Hastings & Bexhill and it’s the first time I’ve been up there and not immediately been afraid that I was about to blown from Kansas into Oz.
All in all, a very nice afternoon. I took some photos (here). I may be back. After all, someone has to be there to see St Leonards Cinque Ports make all those promotions until they can face Wasps on equal terms. Just so long as they never ask me to make up the numbers …
“They’re getting their excuses in early. They say they’ve only got fourteen and only six of them played for the first team last weekend.” The signs were not good for a close game as, when I arrived twenty minutes before kick off, Hastings & Bexhill had a full squad out doing routines and working through set plays, and their visitors had two guys standing under the posts looking worried. In the end we did get a game but as the pre-match whispers had predicted, Lordswood had travelled light and with most of their regular first team missing. Failure to fulfil is worse than a battering but it can’t have been a great feeling to be on the wrong side of a 104-0 scoreline, not least because it was only that close because the ref agreed with the captains to call the game early.
The first try came within about ten seconds of the start – or however long it takes to run a kick off back through a line and then make it under the posts. It was pretty much a procession from then on. Hastings probably lost more points to dropped ball (and foot in touch) than to tackles. Lordswood did get their hands on the ball but without a structure they put their faith in booting it away for a bit of immediate relief far more than in retaining it and making Hastings defend. This wasn’t the most fun I’ve had watching sport so it was just as well the pre-match beer was decent and the conversation around the pitch entertaining. I probably should have paid more attention to the 2nd XV match going on as that looked a lot closer.(*)
It’s somewhat trite to say this was a good result for Hastings but +104 and 5 points is definitely helpful on the league table and it didn’t seem that anybody picked up an injury so a job that had to be done was done well. For Lordswood, I guess they dust themselves down and hope they have an actual first team for their match next week. The players who stepped up from their usual level to the thankless task today more than earned their three cheers at the end but I’m sure they’ll be hoping they won’t ever need to repeat the experience.
Owing to misunderstandings about kick off times I had a combined 30 minutes at Amersham & Chalfont hockey and Chesham rugby union this weekend. Bit of a shame as both looked like being decent games when I left them. As it turned out the hosts won in both matches – 3-2 in the hockey, 31-13 in the rugby.