Back to school.
It had the feeling of a friends reunited meet, or a school reunion, at the home of Chesham Stags this fine afternoon. Deep in the Hertfordshire countryside, Finsbury Park were looking to see some early indicators that this would be another season of success, building on a silverware strewn campaign in 2017-18 and a preseason that has seen record high training sessions and new faces attempting to force their way in to Gaz Chapman's already full hand.
As well as an array of new names on the starting XV team sheet, Graham Rutherford, Josh Ledger, Robbie Robertson, Hugo Murray... longtime followers of the Fins may have found comfort in the familiarity of the bench. Welcome back James Pattison after missing the entirety of the last term with a neck injury, Chairman Morse for the first time in 19 months (he didn't actually play... but nice to see his name out there) and President Burke who made his 10 minute season cameo at the site he very nearly scored his first ever try in a career spanning over 20 years last September. He didn't then, he was held up... and he didn't today either. Good job we have some more accomplished finishers around the park!
Finsbury started strong, resilient forward work securing numerous rucks against a sizeable Chesham pack. The late arrival of starting 2nd row Aaron Carter left a gaping hole for Alex Walters-Wood to fill, which he did magnificently. Reminding all his old classmates of what they miss when his knee gives in, 'Woody' turned over twice and made two big hits within the first five. A real statement of intent.
Try Finsbury! 5-0
An overthrown line-out from Fred Bromley brushed the top of the leaping Skipper Evan Gwilliam's fingers, to be gathered at 5th man by none other than the best scrummager in the club Alex Thomas. After taking a step and giving the opposition the eye, he played a pin point pass to the evergreen Chris Green who orchestrated a beautiful backs move (alien to this commentator, sorry reader), for PCDC Dan Cunningham to pace down the attacking right and finish in the corner. Up stepped the rarely reliable Frazer Findlater who true to form sailed a kick wide of the posts.
Another superb backs play shortly after saw a dummy give and take betweem Chris to Fraze end up in the hands of Morgan Carter-Tocny smashing through on a sliced diagonal after the deftess of offloads. The sort of delicacy seldom seen on a rugby field. Delightful.
The consequential ruck was well secured and allowed new boy 9 Josh Ledger to find Frazer for a now 'classic' Fraze maurauding 20m run, slicing through the opposition with ease that lesser men could be embarassed by. He gratefully slotted hope the conversion too.
Finsbury 12-0 Chesham
This was beginning to feel like business as usual.
It wasn't. Chesham were not going down without a fight. With a pack that dwarfed that in Green and Gold, wave after wave of crash ball was battering the defensive wall. Some notable big hits from Chaz Dempsey and Adam Born resisting the forward momentum. After yet another Chesham crash, debutant Graham threw his face in where it hurt and had to take some time out to clear up the blood injury. This allowed Tom "Benjamin Button" Kemp to enter the fray and immediatly find himself face down in a ruck. The resistance couldnt last forever, and after a well worked Chesham line out move, initially foiled by some positive counter rucking, a sheer to the right left a hole for the home side to power through. Conversion taken from inside the central channel.
Finsbury 12-7 Chesham.
This was not to last. Despite a Gaz Chapman-esque miss-3 pass attempt going forward and finding touch from Fraze, the backs were beginning to find their groove. Step up Hugo Murray.
As Hugo glided round and through the opposition with such consummate ease, you'd be forgiven for allowing the nostalgia to flow and think back to a previous incumbant of the Fins' 1st XV Finsbury jersey. Reminiscent of a try by said club-legend Hugh Lyons in (approx.) 2015 at (i think) Harrow (this was literally im a time before records began); Hugo having already out-classed 3 opposition defenders, chipped his counter part, gathered and scored. Absolute class. Kick duly missed by Fraze.
Finsbury 17 - 7 Chesham
The oppo kick-off yielded another Finsbury trademark, a Dan Brett knock on, majestically shunted forward off a barreling chest, the scrum stood firm and possession swiftly turned over. With not much time left in the half, there was still time for a Gaz Chapman-esque miss-3 pass attempt going forward and finding touch from Fraze off Evs finger tips, but little else of consequence.
Half [third] time! All change.
Welcome debutants Will Cocoron, John Portsmouth and Gus Ryan. Welcome back Mike Godfrey and James Pattison after their seasons away (one through an ill-thought-out belief that playing at another club would be better, the other through an ill-thought-out belief that e could trap a nerve in his neck in a training ground accident and still play rugby for a year). Welcome again to last seasons mainstays who returned to the battlefield with such predictable regularity they won’t get an individual mention at this juncture..
Although a lesser team may have had their rhythm disrupted by all the changes that were rung at the interval, the Park’s flow remained. Tight forward work securing balls at the breakdown, and the odd crash from the hard working pack was dictating the pace of play; flamboyant back’s moves really exhibiting how the club has progressed over the seasons. Despite Park running the show, the Chesham defense remained resilient. Huffing and puffing would only get Finsbury Park so far. Another Gaz Chapman-esque miss-3 pass attempt going forward and finding touch from Fraze, this time searching for Chris in the channel completed an unusual hat-trick for the 2016 player of the season, but this wasn’t to define his, or indeed this game. The individual mistakes wouldn’t last forever, and after more progressive backs moves from the coaches playbook, Fraze found the space to complete his try-scoring hat-trick, and had the wherewithal to nudge the conversion too.
Finsbury 24 – 7 Chesham.
Some impressive carrying from Gus Ryan, a more impressive debut for the park I cannot recollect, must be giving the selection committee food for thought. Three adventures, probing deep into the home sides’ defensive third was really pegging them back. A performance exemplified by another burst down the left wing, to be greeted by a frustrated Chesham flanker with a late and high shoulder, the impact of which could be heard from the opposite side of the pitch. The foul though was rolled, and Gus swiftly got up… the offender lay crumpled in a heap with a suspected dislocated shoulder and his afternoon was over. Beastly. It wasn’t this new boy who would be making his name onto the score sheet (a stat some would argue is of little significance…. Apparently pre-season scores don’t count towards a career total) but step up Will Cocoron. After more Park pressure, a powerful diagonal run from the right hand touchline in, Will finished under the posts. The biggest surprise of the game was to follow. As 10 for the third JP was walking to take the kick to secure his first points for FP since April ’17, Captain Engergiser Ev decided he wanted to be the star of the show. It took him 7 matches to get on the score sheet last season, but not this. A neat drop-kick conversion over the sticks added to the tally.
Finsbury 31- 7 Chesham.
Two-third time. All change.
More of the same after this additional interval. Another trademark smash from the exhausted Kiwi Chaz Dempsey would have put Courtney Lawes to shame. Park were digging deep, yet to find the fitness reserves that had served both sides so well just a few months ago. Well, most to find those reserves. Adam Born, the clubs 17th best finished. Making his first outing in the pack, the complete winger was also trying to work on a position change. Bursting through the defensive line, his pace carried him over to score. Another hat-trick completed for Fraze this time in kicks rather than missed passes.
Finsbury 38 – 7 Chesham.
There was still time for a final Fins score. Completing his hat-trick of hat-tricks, Fraze scored. To be brutally honest, I cannot remember how, when or why. But Chairman Morse wrote it down, so it must have happened. Cheers Morse.
Full Time Finsbury 45 – 7 Chesham.
A good afternoon for the Park against a sizeable Chesham outfit. Work still to be done though, we’d have liked a clean sheet. After a sluggish start to last season's campaign, in part due to neither side having a pre-season fixture... here's hoping that all cobwebs can be well and truly dusted off by the end of our next run out.
Next up an unknown test for our growing club, Hammersmith and Fulham on Saturday 1st September,
‘Mon the Fins!!!