New year, new ground. Fortress Spring Hill was yet again rendered unplayable by the winter weather, causing the team to decamp to Hackney Marshes. The opponents were comfortably beaten earlier in the season but with the Christmas period taking a toll on the team’s waistlines nothing was taken for granted.

Due to repeated postponements the Gargoyles had not played a league game since 17th November and that performance had been one to forget. Improvement was required. The second half of the season needed to get off to a good start if the team were to remain in with a shout of promotion.

With only one training session since the turn of the year, some rustiness was inevitable. However the team started well, pinning Hendon back in their own half with long kicks from Jonny O’Connor and Matt Hanton playing the sensible game early on. After a successful penalty attempt the first try finally came when Kazeem Olayinka rampaged down the right wing, releasing Tam McFadyen to score in the corner. 8-0. The second try came from a shanked penalty attempt (later claimed as an assist by the kicker), when the Hendon defence, assuming that the kick would sail between the sticks, watched as the Hackney chase proved to be significantly better than the kick. After being won back by some fierce Hackney rucking, the ball was shifted left for James Hardwick to finish. A further penalty was added before half time to go in 18-0 ahead.

Despite the lead, Hackney had squandered a number of chances and the cobwebs remained. The patterns, so effective all season, were not clicking, and few phases were put together. The pack toiled manfully against an effective Hendon counter-rucking game, whilst Damien Bouvier and Falco Carmo to the fore in the loose, preventing the Hendon backs from gaining any fluency. Ben Veyrac disrupted time and again in the line-out whilst McFadyen enjoyed his day in the forwards, snapping up anything thrown long and making yards from the back of the line.

Pressure remained on Hendon throughout the half and eventually points followed. Ollay was making yards whenever he got the ball, and Hendon obliged by repeatedly kicking to him. A strong run again led to quick hands in the backs allowing McFadyen to stroll through the defence, setting up Paul Baker to score. He followed up with his 2nd try a few minutes later as the Hendon defence failed to cope with Hackney’s ability to get the ball wide quickly.

As Hackney’s lead stretched and Hendon got frustrated the match began to get bad tempered, with handbags being displayed all over the pitch. In amongst all of it Hackney found time to score another two tries, with replacements Chris Whitnall and Rolfin Nyhus crossing the whitewash. By this time the forwards were in the ascendency, Nyhus’ try coming from a rolling maul after yet another lineout win from the imperious Veyrac.

With ten minutes remaining a Hendon player and vice-captain Damien Bouvier were sin-binned – in Bouvier’s case for protecting himself against an impending assault. Although the sides remained at 14 each during this time, his absence was keenly felt as a series of Hendon penalties eventually led to a try under the posts from the last play of the game, probably deserved reward for their efforts in the match.

Although there is significant room for improvement this was a good performance and a 6 tries to 1 win is not to be sniffed at. Despite being out-muscled at the rucks at times the pack performed well with Veyrac, Falco Carmo and McFadyen the standout performers. Eldon Takitimu had his most effective game yet for Hackney, marshalling the defence well and setting the outside backs free at every opportunity.

Man of the match: Ben Veyrac.
Won everything sent to him in the line whilst disrupting the Hendon at every opportunity. Carried aggressively and made his fair share of tackles, never shirked his responsibilities despite (as usual) facing a much heavier opposite number.