“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.
I haven’t been to a rugby match of either code for the longest time. But on the day when in league New Zealand and Australia produced one of the all-time classic test matches I ventured the short distance from my front door to Hastings & Bexhill RFC. Of course it’s union on the south coast and the game I went to witness was a derby, albeit one between the reserves of the home side and the first team of the visitors St Leonards Cinque Ports.
The temptation at Hastings & Bexhill (or ‘hays’ as the vocal few cheering them on had it) is to turn away from the field and admire the view. From the pitchside you can see across the Old Town and out to sea. On a day like today with its mix of sun, cloud and rain it was intermittently dramatic. Thankfully what was taking place on the pitch itself meant that only an occasional glance seaward was required.
The scoreline at the end read 28-5 to the visitors. Four tries all converted to one unconverted. The unconverted was due, in part, to the absence of a kicking tee at the crucial moment. The result was more reflective of Cinque Ports’ ability to take their chances compared to their hosts’ ability to fluff their lines. Going by territory, possession and flashes of skill it could all have been so much closer.
I took along the camera, such is my want. The light was crap and this bad workman is also going to blame the resulting output on just how long it’s been since he clicked a shutter at an oval ball in anger. Should you so desire you can see some photies here. Not a single one of the sea.
Just an excuse to use this quote which I nicked from here:
“Rugby football is a game I can’t claim absolutely to understand in all its niceties, if you know what I mean. I can follow the broad, general principles, of course. I mean to say, I know that the main scheme is to work the ball down the field somehow and deposit it over the line at the other end and that, in order to squalch this programme, each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow man which, if done elsewhere, would result in 14 days without the option, coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench.” – P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves (1930)
Wodehouse might have fainted at the prospect of ladies playing but here’s a set from my 20 minutes of watching Chesham play Camberley in the RFUW NC South East 1. The other sport from this weekend was Aylesbury FC‘s edging out of Chesham United in the FA Cup.
Of course we all know that when referring to rugby that there’s a superior thirteen-a-side game whose only downside is that its supporters get nosebleeds when faced with the prospect of playing south of Sheffield. A view of the differences between the codes can be seen here – I couldn’t possibly comment. See here for my cheeky set from the 2008 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.
Yesterday in the spring sun was the Bucks Shield final against Phoenix of Taplow.
And a decent match it was too. 8-5 at half time and it stayed that way through most of the second half as both teams defended their territory ferociously and attacks came agonisingly close to the decisive score before being snuffed out. Two late scores made it 20-5 at the death but it really was a lot closer than that.