The second game of 2013 saw possibly the season’s best performance from a Gargoyles side rejuvenated by the Christmas break. Despite scoring 6 tries for the second week in a row this victory was founded on a solid defensive display, with the back row in particular leading the way with all three starting back rows dominating their opposite numbers throughout.

A somewhat low-key and at times downright shambolic warm up was not the ideal preparation against a team that had turned the Gargoyles over at Spring Hill earlier in the season. Coach GHH administered a deserved rollocking which had the desired effect and by kick off the team was fired up and ready for revenge. Although the well-funded pitches at OAs were in fine condition, the wind was swirling all over the place, disappointing kickers and hookers on both sides.

As has been the case in recent matches, Hackney were quickest out of the blocks and looked the better team in the first ten minutes. However a midfield battle seemed the order of the day, with Hackney’s back row doing a good job as both an attacking threat and shutting down any OAs attacks, although Matt Hanton did manage to put 3 points on the board with a penalty. Once again, Hackney gave away many pounds in the pack, and despite a sterling effort from the front row of Sam Joyce, Damien Bouvier and Matthieu Arneguy, the scrum travelled backwards a few times in the first half. This was often not to OAs’ benefit as number 8 Neil Cunningham turned a retreating scrum into an attacking platform time and again, linking well with Tam McFadyen and giving the OAs half-backs a day to forget.

The first try came from a ball turned over in the Hackney 22, with Falco Carmo and Cunningham combining to release Andy Sprague, who won the 70m foot race to the line and claim his first Hackney try. Having built a 10-0 through hard graft Hackney then allowed OAs to hit back in the softest of fashions, with a charged down kick allowing the OAs centre to stroll over the line untouched. The home game against OAs had been lost when the Gargoyles gifted OAs 3 tries and the determination to prevent this happening again was evident in the response, good hands in the backs allowed Sprague to turn provider and send Paul Baker over in the corner. 15-7 at half-time was a fair reflection of a tight first half that Hackney probably just edged.

Half-time saw a reshuffle in both backs and forwards; Glenn Prowse replacing Joyce and Dan Worth replacing Eldon Takitimu. Impetus was immediately gained by Hackney as Prowse showed his strength in the scrum against the rapidly tiring OAs pack. A couple of minutes into the half came probably the defining moment of the match: Cunningham picking up from 8 yet again and clearing the ball miles downfield into the swirling wind. The ball took a horrendous bounce, bisecting the OAs wing and full back and landing straight into the arms of the chasing Sprague, who failed to even have the decency to look ashamed at Hackney’s good fortune as he dived over the line.

The second half continued to ebb and flow with Hackney just keeping their noses in front through a classic forwards’ 2 yard finish from John Young, whilst OAs came back with a well-worked forwards’ try of their own. Having thrown away a 10 point lead in the home game Hackney knew that at 27-19 the game was not put to bed. Territory was the order of the day and after winning a line-out in the OAs 22, phases were put together and Carmo scored under the posts. The converted try, followed by another penalty, stretched Hackney’s lead to 37-19 and OAs knew the game was up. The last play of the game saw quick hands in the backs put Chris Whitnall over in the corner and guaranteed Hackney a second successive 6-try haul and an ultimately emphatic victory – and revenge - over one of their promotion rivals.

Once again there were strong performances throughout the team with the back 3 all having good games, but, as is probably clear from the rest of the report, the Hackney back row made up a large amount of the difference between the two teams and any one of them could have been man of the match.

Man of the match: Neil Cunningham.
Although in theory playing at number 8, Neil popped up all over the pitch and casual observers could have been excused for thinking he was playing at 9, 10 or 12 at times. Made yards from the base of an often-retreating scrum whenever he had the chance and relieved the pressure on the Hackney defence with some booming clearance kicks. Another all-action back row performance.