The final match day of 2012 saw Hackney venture into central London, and the pleasant surroundings of Regent’s park, for a game against fellow promotion contenders Belsize Park. The warm-up began in the ragtag fashion which has seen the Griffins concede far too many points in the first fifteen minutes of recent fixtures. Coach Gareth Hatherley-Hurford gathered the team for a swift bollocking which managed to rouse a few of us from our lethargy, and get us into the frame of mind needed to win a game without regulars like Chamberlain, Hart, Davis, and Wilkinson.

Hackney started the brightest, receiving the ball from kick-off to begin a number of crashing close runs from Bobin, Newton Mills, and Prowse. But yards gained were hard earned as the mobile Belsize back-row proved highly effective at killing ball, something that the referee did not penalize until later in the game (much to the chagrin of Shaun Rooke). After heaping on pressure in the opening forays Hackney soon got their reward: Captain Alex O’Hara decided to kick a penalty to the corner rather than at the posts and gave the Griffins a lineout on the Belsize five. Having already had ball stolen by the 19.5 foot Belsize front jumper, Tully and Bowers decided to contrive a cunning plan: dummying to lift Laurence Mills, Tully then turned for Bowers to throw a low bullet into the marauding second row’s bread basket. The Belsize hooker valiantly got a tackle onto Tully but the deftest of offloads left Bowers with the easiest of scores; as the Griffins marched back with smiles on their faces there was a tangible sense that the albatross of poor starts was off our neck. As the next ten minutes were to display, we may have been counting our albatrosses before they had hatched. Belsize gained possession and began a march up the pitch, with Hackney’s drift defence snuffing out most of the danger. Most, but not all: a mix up from first phase ball sent the Belsize winger dancing down the wing to score under the posts, from which the kicker duly converted to put the game at 7 - 5 to Belsize.

Needing to make amends for a defensive mix-up, Griffins winger Arif Saad then decided to exert his considerable attacking skill on to proceedings. Bowers broke blind off a scrum, popping deftly to Rooke who committed Belsize’s winger and released Saad on a thirty yard gallop in to the opposition half. Saad was brought down short and couldn’t quite get the off load to Laurence Mills running a great supporting line, but he wouldn’t need to wait long for for his ninth try of the season. Another scrum, this time just outside Belsize’s 22 would be the platform for the second score - infact it is fair to say that the scrum was a platform all day, with a front row featuring Pilkington, Jones, Newton Mills and Glenn Prowse using their size and skill to dominate. From this scrum O’Hara took the ball from Rooke and gave the most delicate of pops to Saad running a straight line from deep. From here it was the trademark hitch-kick to shrug off the full back and under the posts for a soon to be converted try. Hackney up 12 - 7. This was how the game would stay until halftime, but that doesn’t really tell the story: Belsize dominated possession in the last fifteen minutes of the half, with Hackney camped out on their own line for long periods. The defence came in four equally firm parts. Fielding kicks and returning the ball in hand or by boot Rowbottom and Carroll were solid against a lengthy bombardment, clearing our own lines Rooke’s box kicks relieved pressure, in the 10/12/13 channel Yong, O’Hara and Watmore drifted and smashed the opposition with aplomb, and in close Bobin, Burke and Tully defended the line which was twice nearly breached. Half-time blew on a Belsize team which had thrown the kitchen sink, and perhaps also the sink from the downstairs bathroom, at Hackney for no reward.

The second half was a clinical display with Hackney only enjoying 30-35% of the ball, but scoring three tries with it. Belsize for all their possession were rendered impotent by two factors. Firstly, a defensive line which pressurized and drifted for phase after phase, benefitting hugely from Morgan and Gareth’s session on this very thing at Tuesday training. Secondly the loss of arguably their best player at scrum half meant their ten moved to nine, and their thirteen to ten. The new halfbacks were much more limited, frustrated by Hackney, and chancing their arm on wild miss passes and kicks over the top. Hackney’s third try came from a familiar source: the driving maul which has been so effective in winter conditions. Taken by Burke at the back of the lineout the pack drove as one, shifting the ball from Tully to Newton Mills, and eating up the ground before them. So impressive was the progress of this maul that the pack didn’t realise that Newton was a good five metres over the try-line when we decided to put the ball down (this despite screams from our cohort of traveling fans).

Belsize were getting frustrated and began to be consistently penalized for infringements round the ruck; this kept them stuck in their own half. A scrum on the Belsize five allowed the Griffins to turn the screw once again. The dominant tight five began a controlled drive towards the line, reminded of squandered pushover tries in recent weeks. The ball was controlled by the triumvirate of Burke, Rooke and Bowers, and the line was reached. As it was, lo and behold the swinging leg of a Belsize player trying to illegally prevent the inevitable score. Luckily this gentleman wasn’t a gifted footballer and managed to kick nothing but the air, as Bowers fell on the ball to score his second remarkably simple try. Although comfortable the Griffins weren’t done here. After more foiled attacks, O’Hara pinned Belsize into their own 22 with a series of fine kicks, one of which led to Newton Mills smashing their fullback in to touch. Hackney knocked on from the resulting lineout and prepared to dominate another Belsize scrum. And so they did, with Pilkington causing his man all number of problems. The ball then fired out for the alert Laurence Mills to pick up, and dash to score Hackney’s fifth and final try.

Hackney rested in the last five and their line speed suffered as a result. Belsize ran well and enjoyed some time in Hackney’s half. Pilkington was wrongly penalised for a turnover of which Pocock would have been proud, and Belsize scored a consolation try from the resulting tap-and-go in the last play of the game. But this couldn’t dampen Hackney spirits under the posts - a team on a poor run of form had come to Regent’s park and done a royal job on a competitive Belsize side. Smiles were seen in the changing rooms, laughs were had in the showers, and pints of ale were consumed with the vigor of victory, rather than the recently familiar shrug of resignation. As 2012 comes to an end the Griffins earned their Christmas Turkey, and are set for a push for promotion in 2013.