After a couple of weeks off the Gargoyles were at risk of being undercooked against Saturday’s visitors Hampstead. The men from the Heath were not having the best time of it after promotion to Merit Table 3, with an unenviable record of played 7, lost 7 leaving them second from bottom (thanks to the vagaries of merit table points allocations). On paper at least, it looked like it would be business time for the Gargoyles, a chance to make up some of the points difference that rivals Datchworth and Harpenden enjoyed at the start of the day, in what is shaping up to be a very tight promotion race.

The squad, as always, was much changed from the previous week. New faces (and one horrendous moustache) in Tom Jepps and Rhys Johnson stepped up from the Gogs, whilst James ‘Davis James’ Davis slipped on the slightly off-yellow of the Gargoyles to join his brother Chancellor Davis in a handy-looking back line. Mark Nunn joined the bench to bring the tally of Gargoyles representatives for the season so far to 57. In 9 games.

The warm up was, as always, a hit and miss affair. Only 15 members of the squad embarked on a proper warm up, with two regular (unnamed) Gargoyles competing to see who could be most late whilst simultaneously avoiding all attempts at contact from an increasingly-frantic captain. Nonetheless, by kick off the two slots in the pack were filled and the obligatory frenetic first 5 minutes commenced.

Hampstead, determined to make light of their league placing, started by throwing the ball around with an intent rarely seen by visitors to Fortress Spring Hill and their fly half in particular looked lively with ball in hand. However, one optimistic pass in the 22 too many was punished by new Gargoyle Tom Jepps, intercepting for the easiest of debut tries. The metronomic James Hardwick added the extras. The second Hackney try followed shortly afterwards, as Rolfin Nyhus, shrugging off pre-match criticism at his lack of Movember efforts, plundered a loose ball from a lineout and with the assistance of first mate Uzo broke through the Hampstead defences. Whilst the intrepid duo marginally failed to cross the Hampstead line the ball was recycled for the Chancellor to cross the whitewash out wide.

Following a missed Hackney penalty, Hampstead struck back as they converted a 2-on-1 out wide on the Hackney left after taking advantage of some miscommunication in the back line. Hardwick almost immediately restored the two-score cushion with a penalty after Hampstead were forced to handle at the breakdown, and then Uzo, responding to some mild heckling from the Hackney subs bench about his lateness, turned provider as he picked up from the base, beat numerous tackles and off-loaded to Rhys Johnson who found Ollie Bawden out wide to take the direct route through and over the Hampstead full back for his first Gargoyles try. The forwards were by now beginning to turn the screw in maul and scrum, allowing Luke Hearn to attack round the fringes and find Johnson in support as the third Gargoyles’ debutant try-scorer. A confortable lead of 29-7 at half-time was simultaneously indicative of Hackney’s dominance and a sign that the team needed to up the ruthlessness.

A flowing counter-attacking backs move down the Hackney left opened the half for the home side, with most of the back line involved. Hampstead’s scramble defence initially repelled the attack, but a panicked kick was returned with interest by Jepps, and the resulting breakdown was too tempting for Nyhus to resist a charge for the line, achieved with his usual effectiveness. The try preceded 15 minutes of complete Gargoyles’ domination, with tries for captain Ben Veyrac and the now-obligatory try for Uzo following in quick succession. The dominance led to a period of complacency and carelessness for Hackney, typified by a quick tap penalty by the returning Matt Hanton, which was less than successful in that it was tapped and knocked a couple of metres forward, in contravention of all known examples of best practice. Moral support from team-mates was of course quick to follow, with Hanton was left grateful that Hackney is not the kind of club that does ‘dick of the day’.

Complacency also manifested itself in the more traditional medium of shipping soft, entirely avoidable tries as Hampstead’s 10, who had taken a dislike to the mild-mannered Chancellor Davis, chose to channel his aggression in the general direction of a massive gap in the now reshuffled Hackney backline, scoring one and setting up another to close the gap to 50-19. The Chancellor replied with interest, unleashing an excellent Dan Worth impression as he used a massive overlap as a decoy to get his second of the day. With Hampstead’s backs now throwing caution to the wind and running from everywhere, a further score followed in a by-now ludicrous feast of try-scoring. The crowd, by now approaching double figures, wanted more Hackney tries, and they duly followed, as Arif Saad, in a bid to reclaim his moniker of ‘the prolific Arif Saad’, opened his account for the season after fine approach work from the prolific Charlie Davis. Mark Nunn followed suit, scorching his opposite man out wide on the right to leave Hanton with the easiest of conversions.

The final play of the game saw an attempt by the Hampstead centre to run out the clock by sitting on the ball off the pitch. The resulting penalty and scrum led to a marauding run from Uzo, who was held up over the line but managed to offload to Hanton who finished with style and no little grace from approximately 0.4 metres. A barmy second half doing the Hackney points difference no harm as they move on to a tougher challenge away to Datchworth next week.

Man of the Match: Charlie Davis.
The Chancellor narrowly pipped Adam Balzano to the man of the match award after a day full of dangerous running, tries and massive tackles. Targeted by the Hampstead 10 and 12 with some late hits, Charlie made Hampstead pay for their bad manners with an excellent all-round performance.