As the rain lashed down over the grass and mud of Spring Hill, heads were filled with one thought – ‘Winter is coming’. Hackney Gargoyles’ squad of 17, shorn of a number of regulars including Captain Matt Hanton, Vice-Captain Dave Huxley, and Man of the Match Pete Walsham, was full to the brim with backs (and backs 'persuaded' to convert to forwards), generally considered an endangered species in wintery conditions. With a howling gale viciously complementing the quagmire of the 2nd team pitch, this did not seem the day for that to change.

However this year’s Hackney squad is a different beast to last year’s. The team has taken the step up to Merit Table 3 in its stride, blooding new recruits in almost every game yet rarely veering off course. Ali Cheyne at full back filled the role of debutant this week, fresh from a run out with the 3s the previous week. With the 1st team playing on the next pitch, the squad had a big motivating factor – almost every time the 2s had won big this season, the 1s had won by more.

Determined to show that the defeat to OAs was just a blip, new skipper Shaun Rooke rallied the troops. Playing into the wind first half, the Hackney kicking game was a non-starter. The opposition had brought the obligatory large pack with them. Tactics were obvious - despite the conditions, quick ball out wide was the order of the day. New fly-half and Dan Carter fan club (Hackney branch) member Eldon Takitimu used his backs well, allowing the quick men out wide to do the damage. And what damage – the first 15 minutes saw Stortford blown away as the forwards and backs linked to devastating effect as 4 tries were run in with Stortford barely touching the ball. 2-on-1s were converted for all four tries, with the Stortford fullback powerless to prevent training ground skills being put into play, the highlight being the link play between James Hardwick and John Young, allowing Chris McMahon to finish in the corner.

Not for the first time this season, a purple patch was followed by scrappy play from Hackney and as Stortford settled they came back into the game. The Stortford fly-half, enjoying first use of the wind, kept the Hackney back 3 penned in their 22 with raking kicks. With line-outs increasingly a lottery and scrums fairly evenly matched despite the Stortford size advantage, fluency was at a minimum. However every time Hackney had field position they looked dangerous, and the 5th try came just before half-time as a penalty kicked to the corner led to some phases from the forwards, with Young driving over for a try. A 31-0 half-time lead was thoroughly deserved.

With Stortford playing for pride in the 2nd half, Hackney were given the target of keeping a clean sheet. In fact, they quickly extended their lead as Glenn Prowse received a tap penalty and drove over the line from 10m out. This was the extent of Hackney’s scoring, as Stortford began to dominate up front, with Hackney repeatedly pinged for infringements at the breakdown, and probably lucky to avoid a yellow card. Stortford’s attempts to work anything through the backs were met with stiff resistance, notably from Mark Zissler and Rich Yong in the centres who returned everything thrown at them with interest. Eventually however, Stortford chose to avoid the bagel by converting a penalty in front of the posts, and added a well-worked try to their tally with 15 minutes to go. With the game up, the remainder of the second half also turned scrappy as both sides tried to overplay in passages of play.

A return to form for Hackney who will look to take this forward into 2 huge games the next two weeks – against Saracens Amateurs and then last year’s nemesis Hemel Hempstead.

Man of the match: Rich Yong. Fresh from a 4 week trip back to the Southern Hemisphere, spent the game alternating between linking well with the outside backs and cutting down Stortford backs with ease and no little power.