A rather oddly shaped Lions team made the journey to North East London to face Hackney 4ths. With Matt working and Alex being a hotelier the returning Graeme filled in on the loose with Jim hooking and Zak at tight making a front row with the side profile of the slope of Everest. Elsewhere Juan made his first appearance in five weeks on the flank and Dan was at eight.
James captained the side and kicked off. A Hackney passing move that went wrong allowed James to pick up the ball and cover the forty metres to get Lions on the scoresheet within a minute. Hackney answered with a penalty, following plenty of stout defence from the Lions to keep them from the tryline, eventually conceding the 3 points. Hal made the journey from Surbiton stright from work in his bakers uniform and turned up to replace the hobbling Dan at eight. The scrum was shuffled around with Gareth moving to eight and Hal in the engine room, this greatly contributed to the Lions scrum stability.
The next try came from a gazelle/giraffe like run from Zak who was passed the ball inside his own half and lolloped through a gap in the Hackney defence making it to just outside the twenty two before being felled, but not before offloading in a move that Sonny Bill Williams himself would be proud of, to the supporting James who went in for his second. Lions third came from a strong passing performance down the line which ended in Dan Mack going in the corner. Bird missed the conversion though and at this point the Lions thought they were cruising to a comfortable victory, they were wrong...
After concerted pressure from pick and go’s, Hackney got their first try of the day and converted. In an attempt to stop the tide, Lions started to complicate the game, playing more like the Harlem Globetrotters with the ball hitting the floor and an increasing amount of scrums.
Lions scored a forth, with James tapping and going deep inside the Lions twenty two racing and stepping past defenders to within ten metres of the try line though he was tap tackled, Leon ran supporting line collecting James offload. Lion’s comfortable lead restored?
Hackney showed real determination and would not lie down, and that determination was rewarded when poor defending from the visitors allowed a pick and go crash ball from the nine to punch through the lacklustre Lions defence. Nearing the end of the half with the score at 17-26, Hackney were awarded a penalty and opted for the posts, the resulting kick hit the upright landed back into a Hackney players hands and a few phases later they scored under the posts.
With the score standing at 24-26 to Whitton, there was everything to play for in the second half.
In the second half the Lions kept the ball in hand with forwards Jim, Graeme, Gareth, Hal and Zak gaining the hard yards for make-shift flanker Juan to move the ball out to the speedsters. Mark and Jon gave the Lions a solid platform off the lineout, with Mark spoiling a great amount of Hackney lineout ball and Angert stifling Hackneys attack from the midfield with Paul and JJ started most of Lions attacking play from deep inside the Lions half.
After picking, going and trundling, the Lions moved up the field and were awarded a penalty, Bird slotted it between the uprights to calm the Lions nerves and build a five point cushion. This reignited the Lions and Juan spread the ball to the backs finding Leon who darted around defenders to bag his second. James made a large contribution to the Lions sixth try, gathering the ball on the edge of the Hackney half running past defenders, though he was tackled just inside the twenty two, managed to return the off load favour back to '7ft tight head' Zak who caught the off load and ran the last twenty metres.
Zak managed to undo his good work after the kick off, when the Hackney winger was clean through. The 'prop' dived and grabbed his collar resulting in a high tackle, penalty and sending off. With a man down, Hackney scored their fifth try, but Ori killed any chance of Hackney stealing the game with the winger making a decisive break from inside his half, up the field to within a few metres and offloading to Leon for his hat trick.
Never ones to lie down, the tenacious Hackney came back and scored a final try near the posts leaving the score finely balanced with 8 points in it. From the kick off Lions regathered possession and worded hard, earning a penalty which Bird hit cleanly to close a hard fought scrappy game 38-49.
This win is testament to how much the Lions have improved since last year, when they struggled to put out a full team in some far away games and were on the receiving end of heavy defeats.
The Lions remain unbeaten and ten points clear of London Welsh Occies who were downed heavily at home by Bank of England 3rds 15-70, elsewhere Grasshoppers 3’s lost 17-64 to Chiswick 4’s. Next week the Lions travel to Chiswick and will travel back through Richmond.
After the game, John the coach had this to say:
"Another great result, performance could have been better, but a wins a win! We have a great team spirit, and everyone works hard for each other. We have really improved our support for the man with the ball, and our movement around the pitch.
We are not the finished article yet, any issues or problems we have will become less of an issue as we play together more as a team. We need to improve on our weaknesses of switching off for periods of the game, and build on our strengths of playing an open expansive game.
We do have a mixture of players with various playing experience and abilities; we are performing as well as expected during the game. The team should be proud of themselves because we have players playing with injuries or when on night shifts. That is some great commitment to the club."
1 Graeme 2 Jim 3 Zak
4 Gareth 5 Mark
6 Juan 7 Bird 8 Saxby/Hal
9 Leon 10 James
12 Angert 13 Paul
11 Dan Mack 14 Ori 15 JJ
Tries Leon three, James two, Dan Mack, Zak
Conversions Bird 4/7 Penalties 2/2
Man of the Match
Backs Leon for controlling the ball at the base of the ruck, his attacking lines and great supporting play which lead to three tries.
Forwards Jim for great carrying and steering the good ship Whitton Lions out of choppy waters.
Zak who despite his good work, earned himself a yellow card and the coveted DOD.