Old Habs haven’t played Woodford for a couple of years, so it was a pleasure to revisit the East London Club after their recent promotion. They had had a strong start to the year, including a win against their near neighbours Chingford. Habs were also coming into the game with their tails up after pumping Ruislip at Croxdale Road in the previous week – a 50-7 win.
With the sun beating down Old Habs kicked off and were quickly on the front foot in the Woodford half. Pressure on the deck from a pumped up Habs pack resulted in an early infringement and a chance for Ian McGhee to open his account with 3 points from the tee. Straight from the kick off – Habs were back down in the Woodford 22 with a penalty 5 out. Our risk averse front row pointed at the sticks and started to trot back to halfway “build the score, hot day, long match” Whittle was having none of it and plugged the Sandersons and Gatus into the first scrum of the game. Seconds later Tommy Arnott was flopping down for the first try of the game as the Woodford scrum smashed the glass and evacuated the area.
One scrum soon lead to another, and once again the fresh-faced ref’s arm was up in the air for a Habs penalty. Ian McGhee tapped, went, and soft-shoe shuffled through the retreating Woodford defence. Drawing the last man, he popped off to the flying Charlie Johnson who splashed down in the corner – no conversion and Habs were 15-0 up. Woodford came back fighting – scoring themselves after a nice break. There was still time before the half for the Old Habs pack to drive over the opposition for a second push over try – Big Tommy Arnott reaping the benefits of playing at 8 for the day. Woodford then immediately scored a reply – the 22-12 half time score suggesting there was still life in the game.
The second half started well, with Harold Briffitt galloping to the line with the Woodford back line hanging on like so many terriers trying to bring down a giraffe. 27-12 and Habs were cruising. The Home team, however, had different ideas, roaring back with 3 excellent tries to move to a 31-27 lead. In quick succession they ran 2 length of the field tries including one from the kick off which included a beautiful cross kick and chase from the 10 and winger. Conor elected to try to halt momentum with a late shot on the try scorer and earnt himself a 10 minute nap on the naughty step.
While this had been a dire period for Habs – there was still a pervading sense that this was the best Woodford had to throw at us, and that there was still more to come from OH. The pack, driven on by Jonny Whittle in his own inimitable style started punching some holes in the Woodford defensive line, driving them onto the back foot before debutant Chris Surman made a break. I’d have backed him 1-on-1, but he elected to draw the last man and put James Clark (who had risen from his deathbed for the game) in for a try, a decision I’m sure he’ll revisit as the season progresses. Having retaken the lead, Habs switched on the style, spreading the ball across the Woodford defence to Adam Dye on the wing. He bumped his first man, bumped the next and wriggled his way over in the corner – a lovely finish.
With the game now nearly won the Habs pack put on a bravura finale for the purists around. A lineout was taken by the regal Mike Marsden and mauled from our own 22 to halfway. After another lineout - a scrum. Habs drew an additional penalty with another dominant drive. The ensuing penalty was kicked to the corner, for a final drive over the line with Ian Sanderson picking up the points. For the cognoscenti in the crowd, the game in microcosm there, with the Habs set piece scoring three and setting up a fourth try on a day to remember for the boys in the big shorts.
Man of the Match - Ian and Andrew Sanderson
Tries: Arnott x2, Johnson, Clark, Dye, Briffitt, Sanderson I,
Conversions: McGhee x 4
Penalties: McGhee x 2
Report by Andrew Sanderosn