November's eagerly anticipated derby against Hampstead was always going to be an incredibly hard fought contest. Despite losing to the Gladies on 3 of the previous 4 occasions, the team from the Heath has always proven to be a formidable opponent. It was clear from the word go that this match would be no different. In unfavourable conditions and with 2 players down Hackney received the kick off after not the best of build ups. Any other day and the game could have gone very differently, were Hackney prepared for the blistering pace with which Hampstead started their attack.

Within minutes Hackney were on the back foot, forced further into their half by a well-drilled and well-organised Hampstead pack, plunging their way through the heart of the Gladies defence. In the time it took the away side to switch on, half the team had been sucked into the mix, leaving a centre-sized gap for the opposition to exploit. Which they did, scoring under the posts. If that wasn't enough to wake the Gladies up, the copycat move minutes later certainly did. Two tries down, not the start Hackney had been planning for.

In days gone by a 14 point deficit within minutes of a match would spell despair and panic, and yet Hackney responded calmly. At the receipt of kick off number 3 it was Irish debutant Jo Cotterell who started the fight back. In effortless style the prop weaved her way past the half way line, handing her opponents off with ease, before offloading to a supporting forward. Clean recycling and strong discipline from forwards Lawrence, Van Wessem, Lang and Barber forced metre after metre and eventually a penalty from the home side. A successful kick to the corner saw the Gladies in striking distance for the first time.

However, it seemed that nothing was going to be easy in this game. While line outs had been a thing of beauty in practice, in the first half of this match, things just weren't clicking. Ball back to Hampstead. Thankfully, the same was true for the home team. This time, it was number 8 Meeson who turned the ball over. The offload was picked up by Miller who drew in the opposition 12 before popping the ball to Fly Half Campbell, who scored between the posts. One try down, one to go.

Rejuvenated, the Gladies reorganised. For once, Hackney seemed more in control of the game than the rapidly fatiguing home side. Centre Abby Crawford and Miller drilled the defence in a military fashion, and in attack, forward pods did their job brilliantly. The ball was slowed right down by Lawrence, Bjorvig and Meeson and the Gladies played Hampstead at their own game, drawing in the opposition before shipping the ball wide to the centres. This time it was 12 Chantelle Willis who finished off the team effort, arching wide and through a weak spot in the experienced defence. The ball was touched down, but too far wide for Campbell's boot.

The last 5 minutes of the first half was a new game entirely. With renewed vigour, Hackney kicked long into the Hampstead half before testing the defence further. Fly Half Campbell sent Bjorvig and then Cotterell charging through the opposition pack, punching hole after hole in the defence. The ball, again recycled quickly by Meeson and VD, was sent back out to Hackney's 10 who kicked long for the corner. If it wasn't for the half time whistle, Hackney would undoubtably have changed ends the superior team.

Hackney began the second half kicking downhill with the wind in their favour; not for the first time in the match the home side were lucky with the bounce and the Hampstead 7 collected the ball with ease to run right back at the visitors.
For the next 10 minutes play centred around the halfway lime with no side gaining significant advantage, however an astute Hampstead prop spotted space beyond the hackney defensive line and neatly kicked the ball into a vacant hackney 22. Hackney, not for the first time feeling the absence of a fullback, failed to cover in time to prevent another Hampstead score.

Despite an unconventional line up and missing some key players in the backs, hackney responded with gusto,not yet ready to accept defeat to their rivals. In particular ex-hampsteadian ailin Conant did a sterling job moving from wing to wing, covering breaks across the pitch in the absence of a set fullback. Conant's weaving runs placed the home side under considerable pressure and released Crawford on a number of occasions to steal crucial yards from Hampstead. Following the dominance of hackney forwards in first half scrummaging, Hampstead were happy to concede the exchange and went down to uncontested scrums in the second. this enabled Meeson to pick the ball and offload to 9 who duly put 10 through to score under the posts.

By now, Hackney were starting to really believe that they could win this match, little did they knowing that the last ten minutes would be a game in itself. At 22-19 to the home side, things were certainly not in the bag for either team. Anxious to make the most of the regained momentum, Miller kicked long before Hampstead had readied themselves for the restart. Meeson, in familiar fashion, chased the kick down, but this time was unable to prevent the home team from charging back up the pitch. After minutes of physical toil around the half way line, it was Hackney who broke free first. Once again, centre Chantelle Willis was the one to exploit the Hampstead space, this time with much more work to do. Thankfully, the fitness work at training paid off and she out gassed the flailing winger. A missed conversion made it 24-22 to Hackney, but with 6 minutes left of the clock, anything could happen.

Unfortunately, the Gladies ran out of steam in these closing minutes. Instead of holding it together and securing what would have been a very well fought victory, Hackney seemed to relapse to the team of the first ten minutes. The Gladies needn't have lost this game, but did so perhaps because of a lack of focus. The winning try for Hampstead came in a similar fashion to the killer blows they made in those opening minutes. One thing the Gladies will be working on in training is tackling! All in all, a disappointing game, but I'm certain that next time, on home turf, Hackney will be ready to wipe the smirks right back off the Hampstead backs. Bring it on!

Women of the match = Debutant Jo Cotterell. A sterling performance for prop. Awesome runs, superb scrummaging and all round wonderful enthusiasm. Glad to have you with us!