London Chargers 18 vs Hammersmith Hill Hoists 0
New River Stadium
For the Challenge Cup Round 1 match, we found ourselves at the New River Stadium in North London, which played host to two old city rivals Hammersmith Hoists vs London Chargers in what was to be the grudge match at the start of the 2018 season. The two teams last met in the previous season’s Grand Final, with Hammersmith coming out on top in the closing stages.
Going into this fixture, both sides showed much changed teams from last season, with the inclusion of some new but familiar faces in the Chargers front row (Chris Beaven, Dave Thornton & Dan Ljazouli), and some new faces in Hammersmith all over the park.
It was clear to see from the steely atmosphere going into the stadium that Chargers were after bragging rights to make up for last seasons defeat having been the most consistently winning team last year. Hammersmith on the other hand knew they had to defend their winning record at all costs to progress in the competition, maintain bragging rights, but more importantly to lay down a marker ahead of the regular season.
The match kicked off with Mike Butcher sending the ball high into Hoists dead ball area. The quickly worsening conditions meant there was every chance the ball would have snow on it when it came down! Chargers showed real desire defensively in the early stages, especially when Hammersmiths’ front row looked like it was getting the upper hand with some powerful drives down the middle. Superb defensive efforts from the likes of Tom Poole, Dave O’Connor, Shane Picker and Ade Aderiye kept Hammersmith at bay, however they continued to use their front row to good effect, gaining easy metres, pinning Chargers in their own half and continuing to glean penalties and repeat sets out of fatiguing Chargers middle. Yet despite the onslaught, the Chargers managed to hold in spite of the worsening penalty count and some players pulling up lame. This effort in the early stages can only be explained by the very well executed defensive display we saw from Chargers edges with the likes of Joe Briggs and Chris Martin who were especially intent to let Hammersmith know they were here to play, with some strong running and tackling efforts in the early skirmishes.
Both sides displayed some excellent 5th tackle kicking options, opting to go high with bombs in the swirling wind. Whilst Hammersmith were against the wind in the first half and were limited in terms of distance on their kicks, Butcher made good use of the conditions, putting some serious pressure on the Hoists back three. Chargers were given just reward when they went over the try line thinking they had scored, only for the ball to be held up. A warning shot across the Hammersmith bow that this was not going to be a one sided fixture.
Both sides were getting a good feel for the game, and settling into it, so it would be fair to say it was relative stalemate for the first 10 minutes. Hammersmith clearly more comfortable attacking whilst Chargers were sucking up the pressure in defence. It was only around the 15 minute mark when Chargers conceded a few cheap penalties for high tackles that Hammersmith really started to exert pressure. Repeat set after repeat set saw Hammersmith batter the Chargers line. Chargers eventually conceding several back to back sets in a row and yet they held strong, playing up to their notoriety of having the best defensive record in the South league.
On Chargers first set with ball in hand after their defensive efforts, Butcher managed to send his kick well into the Hoists 20 metre line, the Hoists right winger dropped the ball and suddenly the metaphorical arm wrestle of this game had swiftly taken another form. This unforced error led quickly to a conceded penalty and Chargers opted for 2 points. a great sign of respect to the pressure Hammersmith had exerted but the kick equally required an experienced head in Todd Peut to slot the kick between the uprights . 2-0
On the very next restart, some good early drives up the middle and quick play of the balls gave Chargers a shot at scoring a try. Cool and collected, Chargers halves Park and Butcher combined well to put Peut over on the right hand side, using his characteristic spin move technique to catch Hoists off guard. 6-0
Peut duly added the extras with the boot 8-0
It became clear from then on in the match that Hammersmith had run out of ideas and could not come up with ways of breaking down the Chargers defensive line. 5th tackle options were being easily collected by a very safe pair of hands in Picker who’s work rate had been tremendous. Hammersmith runs from dummy half become increasingly narrow and easy to spot, and the unforced error count continued to add to Hammersmith’s woes.
New lad Sam Swire from the Chargers was next to go over in the 32nd minute off the back of some excellent link play by Park who had been going about his work diligently, letting Butcher take first receiver whilst he organised strike options from behind to let Swire burrow over on the right hand side.12-0. Peut, who is now in his 30th year had actually taken 5 minutes at this point so Mike slotted the extras on his behalf 14-0.
A combination of fitness and will to win really characterised the 2nd half as both sides were evenly matched, drawing penalties from one another, but neither side were able to break the deadlock for a large proportion of the 40 minutes. Some good runs by Hammersmiths wingers took them into unfamiliar territory in portions of the game but Chargers dealt with all incursions on their line. To a certain extent Chargers were in damage control, but not before Peut once again popped up at first receiver to dive over for his 2nd with 5 minutes to go. 18-0
Whilst he was unable to add the extras, Chargers came through as well deserved victors in a closely fought contest, a true team effort. What it came down to ultimately was Chargers taking their chances in good ball and defending like their lives depended on it, whilst Hammersmith will rue their lack of penetration with ball in hand when they had the opposition on their own goal line for a serious portion of the first half. Defensively clearly there is work to be done ahead of the regular season.
Chargers will progress to the 2nd round of the challenge cup in a few weeks time, and will then face Hammersmith again in the regular season. The saga continues.
Doug Crichton, Player
“Hoists were always going to be a tough opponent for us in Round 1, especially after our close games last year. I gave the boys some clear tasks to achieve throughout the game and I was impressed by our go forward and scrambling defence.
I was particularly impressed with the intensity shown by our captain Joe Briggs, which set the tone for the game and the composure shown by our spine.
There are areas still to improve on and we will work on that for the next game. There is absolutely no reason why our team can’t go on a cup run and shock some more established teams. The belief is definitely there.”
Todd Peut, Player/Coach