On a warm, end-of-season day, and with nothing obvious to play for, Chiswick went through the motions in a fairly even first half, but had to finally give best in the second half to a Hackney team determined to prove themselves capable of gaining promotion out of Div.2.
Chiswick started well enough, and were soon ahead when Simon Hallett converted a simple penalty kick awarded for a high tackle. Hackney resorted early on to high kicks out of defence, but Russ Dovey, Gabs Lowe and Tom Steer were all rock solid in their catching, one of the best aspects of the Chiswick performance. Slightly less successful were the early thrusts by the strong midfield pairing of Max Burrows and Jon Olley, who came up against a good rush defence. Steer’s first run at the home defence was curtailed abruptly by a cover tackle by the very impressive Hackney No.8, and with Jon Joyce also unable to make a break, despite great effort, it was perhaps psychologically a bad moment to lose their wing Richard Small, to a calf problem, after seventeen minutes.
Almost immediately, Hackney wheeled a scrum in the Chiswick 22, well out on the right, and exploited the narrow side for their No.8 to score an excellent try, easily converted by their fly half, who also had a very good game, controlling mixed tactics well. Chiswick tried to come back and did make one great multi-phase break from their own half; but with an overlap on the right, the ball was knocked on. Chiswick then got a warning when some home players got to a long kick before the Chiswick defence arrived, resulting eventually in a home lineout five metres from the Chiswick line. They were saved on this occasion by Sam Hood’s lineout prowess, and some great midfield smother tackling by Hallett. After Lowe’s eventual clearance kick, prop Ben Barkham made an electrifying burst for the home line from the lineout, scattering defenders in all directions. Chiswick soon got a penalty, but the ensuing five metre lineout was wasted when the throw went straight to the home No.7. Hackney gained another three points just before half time after a Chiswick failure to release.
With Hood subbed, Chiswick should not have conceded a five metre lineout early in the second half. A neat passing movement led to their outside centre flying through on the shoulder of their fly half to score under the posts, and open the floodgates. Ten minutes in, and a sustained home attack ended when their No.8 was given the ball twenty metres out, in front of the posts with no defender between him and the line. Embarrassing. The crowd chortled. Then a high kick down the touchline was miraculously recovered for the Hackney No.7 to set up a try for, guess who, the No.8. The score was now 31-3 after the conversion.
Hood came back on, with Phil Gray replacing Charlie Rigg in the back row, and Blair McKinley replaced a hobbling Marco Chraplewczyk. Chiswick now appeared to wake up to possibilities, and a sustained attack led to Olley finally making a typical strong break before feeding Steer on his right for the wing to score the first Chiswick try, converted by Hallett. Olley had another long break, twenty minutes in, but lost the ball forward at the last desperate tackle. Hackney lost a second row forward to a yellow card soon after, but still managed an important turnover as Chiswick piled on some pressure. Then a rare gap opened up in the home defence, well-exploited by Luca Vannini, whose well-timed inside pass led Max Burrows to score a tackle-free try, again converted.
An exciting finish was on the cards, but not for long. A quick throw-in before the forwards arrived when in your own 22 is a bit of a gamble, and the quick thinking Hackney fly half managed an interception as Chiswick tried hard to get the ball upfield. A desperate tackle on the Chiswick try line failed to stop him grounding the ball, and that was really it. The conversion, and another late try saw Hackney home and dry.
Chiswick team Barkham, Dibble (c), Chraplewczyk, Hood, Joyce, Kelly, Biss, Rigg, Dovey, Hallett, Steer, Burrows, Olley, Small, Lowe; McKinley, Gray, Vannini
T: Steer, Burrows
C: Hallett (2)
Author: D Lovell