Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club opened its Kent One league campaign with a spectacular 62-8 victory on Saturday at home to an HSBC side that beat them twice last season.
Their dynamic pre-season form against clubs from higher divisions was evident from the kick-off, and from the early opening try by Steve McManus created by a silky break from Bruce Steadman, the home side steadily and stylishly built an unassailable lead.
HSBC pressed hard all game and spent periods in their hosts’ 22, but were only rewarded with a first half penalty and a second half forwards' try – even conceding two tries while H&B were down to 14 men after a harsh sinbin for substitute Calvin Crosby-Clarke.
Aggressive, well-organised defence was the key to H&B’s domination of the scoreboard, HSBC’s dangerous back row and centres tamed all afternoon by brutal tackling, notably – but not solely - by influential veteran ex-captains Kit Claughton and McManus, the latter’s son Frazer, Chris Stern, skipper Jimmy Adams, John Hanagarth, Ben Petty and Bruce Steadman.
Jake Stinson celebrated his return to the club for his first start on the wing with a hat-trick of tries - two from well-executed backs’ moves using Harry Walker coming into the line, and one from a neat Adams grubber.
Fellow wing Ben Campbell claimed an interception try, and another by cutting a sweet angle at the end of a textbook handling move.
Petty also scored a brace, with an interception, and a second fine individual blind side effort beating the full-back.
Hanagarth added to the score by finishing off a great Stern break, with Steadman adding a try to his six conversions, after a counter-attack by the beautifully balanced Walker and Stinson.
The success of well-attended pre-season training showed in the general level of fitness, and skill levels: the lineout functioned excellently, and the pack looked sharper in the loose than for a long time. While they were pushed around in the set scrum, the pack managed to hang onto their own put-ins, and they steadied as the game progressed.
The backline played with well-rehearsed familiarity, the playmakers at 10 and 12 repeatedly releasing the fleet-footed runners outside them, keeping their shape and pressurising HSBC in attack and defence.
The scale of the win didn’t conceal defects to work on: clearing their lines was a bit of a concern at times, as was the number of penalities given away in the second half. And the scrummaging machine needs a good workout.
But it must rank as the best start to H&B’s season for many years - both as a result and a performance.
H&B: S. McManus, Umpleby, Roche, Sewell, Adams (c), Stern, F. McManus, Hanagarth, Elphick, Steadman, Campbell, Claughton, John. Stinson, Walker. Subs (all used): Vincent, Crosby-Clarke, Foorde.
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