With the maximum five points taken from this game you would expect that we came away from Hove with elation; instead the team, coaches and spectators left feeling rather empty, that more could have been gained from this match. As David Brown, OEs Club Secretary, was heard to mention, “We got pulled down to Hove’s level of rugby, partly through our own complacency having been 0-22 up after 20 minutes and the game had been won very early on, and partly because the Referee seemed keen to even up the two sides.”
A very pleasant lunch, in the delightful company of Hove’s committee and sponsors, as well as a fair few interested supporters, was taken in good time before the game. The clubhouse was packed with visiting youth teams on tour (always good to see) although it took the visitors 45 minutes to get into the changing room as nobody could find a key. The Old Boys were disappointed with the state of the pitch as many bare patches and big ruts were visible, it has to be the worst playing surface in the league.
Panic over a late-arriving Referee subsided and the teams were ready to play. Mr Goodwin spent some time prior to kick-off explaining his version of the rucking laws to both captains, something that was to blight the game as players scratched their heads as to why certain decisions had been made. Indeed, a yellow card for Johnny Hosken towards the end of the first half was punishment for the whole team’s indiscretions; unfortunately it had been his first offence.
Anyway, Old Elthamians kicked off and within a very short time were a goal to the good. Johnny Williams chased a kick ahead and, with chaos reigning in the home defence and the Hove full-back being caught out of position he managed to snaffle the ball and dance over for a try, scored after three minutes. Tom White added the extras.
Hove tried to reply and went for goal from just about the first penalty they were awarded from what must be quite a high count. Unfortunately for the home spectators it was pulled wide by Phillips, the Hove fly-half. Again Hove dithered under a high ball (well, the full-back had no interest in catching it really) and good hands put Robert White over for a try eight minutes later – this time the conversion attempt was just wide.
Another high kick was allowed to bounce in Hove’s defence and Paddy Smith was in the right place at the right time to pluck the ball out of the air and cross the try-line untouched. White bagged the conversion and Elthamians were now 0-19 in front without really extending themselves. What was interesting was that behind the posts the Hove fly-half and full-back was berating the home forwards, when all three tries so far had been their mistakes!
An unfortunate incident saw Hove’s touch judge, John McBride, get clattered as a couple of players continued a tackle off the pitch. He went down heavily on to two racks of water bottles behind him on a descending slope: he was out cold. The game stopped for a while as he received treatment, but he was able to walk to the ambulance a little later. We understand he made it back to the clubhouse later, not too much the worse for wear, thankfully.
Around the 33-minute mark a penalty to OEs converted by Tom White made it 0-22.
Hove started to up the aggression as they felt, quite rightly, that they had gifted OEs the scores so far. They mauled well, making progress on several occasions. They also crossed the discipline line once or twice (hooker) and were lucky not to have been penalised for it. Line outs went well, with the stock front ball being varied to a middle ball now and again. In the scrums the Old Boys had the upper hand, so much so that the starting tight head was playing at 6 after 30 minutes with the blindside coming up to prop, still without any joy or reward.
Having said that, they turned to a strength yesterday – the driving maul – and late in the first half rumbled the visitors down the pitch, kicked the ensuing penalty for touch and scored by driving blind-side flanker Wattam over for a try. The conversion was missed and the score at half-time read Hove 5 Old Elthamians 22.
Hove continued their belligerence in the second half and it was good to see OEs not responding to the provocation. Indeed an altercation broke out between Robert White and Hove’s winger Ball, in which the home player was seen to land a couple of punches; White didn’t reply. Unfortunately the Referee, who hadn’t seen the whole incident, yellow-carded both players for fighting.
At this point several home supporters, who seemed to have availed themselves of the bar, started to make themselves heard. Now I know we don’t have a monopoly on interested parties giving the referee, the players and the crowd the benefit of their fairly limited rugby knowledge, but it was good to see that other clubs suffer with them too.
Old Elthamians’ forwards started to turn the screw more at scrum time and began to use the driving maul well. Richard Melford started to clean out the Hove number four jumper on his ball and Andrew Reeve distinguished himself with a couple of surging runs, Tom Lawry was, well, Tom Lawry: he was first to every single breakdown for the full 80 minutes. On 58 minutes Tim Kavanagh finished off a period of loose forward play by being driven over by the hard working Jon Aston for a try; the extras were missed. 5 – 27.
Not to be outdone, Hove’s backs contrived to score through weak defending from Elthamians with Henderson crossing from short range. Phillips added the conversion.
That was it for the scoring as the game started to go a little flat, except that Tom White slotted a penalty just about on full-time.
Final score Hove 12 Old Elthamians 30. So, five points gained and almost certainly second place in the league, carrying with it a play-off against Colchester from London One North.
The last home game is against Trojans next Saturday. Will Guernsey slip up to Hove on this showing? Sorry, no, the Hove back division was all talk a great game, only for the stand-off to spend 80 minutes kicking what little ball they had away, so it looks like with a run of 10 unbeaten league games OEs will have to settle for second place.
A very large thank you to Hove for their excellent hospitality: a wonderful pre-match lunch and some very friendly home supporters.