After three wins on the bounce Chiswick Stags were looking to cement their playoff position in their final game before the Christmas break as they took on Twickenham 3s at Dukes Meadows.
With the festive period in full swing and a number of the stalwarts from the season to date out missing, due to injury or other commitments, Chiswick scrapped together a starting 15 which included Gav Nichols making his first outing in two years.
Having won the toss Twickenham elected to receive from the kickoff and within 30 seconds it was immediately evident that neither side had turned up with an eye on the break ahead as bodies were put on line from the outset and the intensity level for the ensuing 80 minutes was set. Chiswick struck the first blow of the game when they turned over Twickenham possession deep in the 22 before opting for a number of tight crash balls which finally saw the returning Charlie Wood power over under the posts to give Chiswck an early 7-0 lead (conversion neatly slotted over by Josh Whyte). The game restarted with continued high levels of energy and good rugby being played by both sides in both attack and defence. As each team tried to feel out their opposition it quickly became evident that whilst Twickenham were looking to move the ball quickly through the hands to enable their strike runners in the backs Chiswick were content to keep the ball in tight channels and utilise the ball carrying skills displayed by Andy Lee, Jay Martin and Gav Nichols (amongst others). As the game pushed on a youthful Twickenham side started to work themselves more and more into the game and a lack of conviction from Chiswick at the breakdown resulted in Twickenham levelling up the scores after about 20 minutes. From that point on Twickenham upped the pressure but a sterling defensive effort held out the Twickenham onslaught with Chiswick defending their try line for the next 15 minutes, topped off with Greg Bastille and Rob Proctor winning a vital scrum after holding up Twickenham over the line. Unfortunately for Chiswick the defensive efforts and continued pressure resulted in Andy Lee taking a knock, and whilst he powered through until half time Chiswick missed his aggression and knowledge. A botched clearance which missed touch on the half way line allowed Twickenham to launch a final counter attack of the half and some neat hands and speed eventually saw them cross over on the 40 minute mark to make the scores 7-14 at the break.
With Chiswick now down a key back row lieutenant and inspirational captain Phil Dewes looking on injured from the sidelines Chiswick needed a faultless effort in the second half if they were to claim a final home victory of 2017. Unfortunately, a few lapses in concentration and attempts to play too much rugby in our own 22 resulted in Twickenham forcing turnovers and running in two quick tries. Chiswick heads remained high however, with the dominance of the pack now coming more and more to the fore. With Chiswick dominating in the lineouts through Mark Smith and a strong rolling maul now in full flow they continued to heap pressure on Twickenham, with the 9 / 10 combination (Kelly / Whitehead) driving the pack up the field. Just as Chiswick looked like clawing their way back into the game centre Josh Whyte took a big hit which ruled him out of the rest of the game and reduced the home side to fourteen men for the remainder of the game (no substitutes left). The extra space now on offer allowed the canny Twickenham out half to pull the strings and exploit space in the defensive line and despite Chiswick offering strong resistance Twickenham crossed for two further tries to make the final score 7 – 38.A somewhat disappointing end to the year for the Stags but heart can be taken from some strong defensive efforts and a never giving up attitude. Sadly Chiswick wish farewell to the inspirational Jay Martin as he sets off Australia in pursuit of his dreams. The Stags however will push on and will hope to replicate those sensational scenes at Ickenham in March and find themselves competing in the MMT 6 finals again come April 2018. We look back fondly on 2017 and look forward to 2018 with high aspirations.
Author: John Kelly