Tabard, arriving with only 15 players and no subs, started the game as their hugely impressive warm-up drill led us to believe, with a number of forward phases in our 22 resulting in the conversion of an early penalty in front of the posts for offside.

From the hard-won away victory in October Hackney knew Tabard were young and fast, but they seemed to have bolstered their pack since that narrow victory. As expected, from the kick off, they tried to run out of their 22 and a turnover at the ruck, followed by a good run from Laurence Mills, fed Uzo Uyanwune to link with Hee-Won Cho, who weaved his way through 3 tackles to score in the right corner. Mills sustained a cut below the eye and was temporarily replaced by a quick thinking Rhys Johnson, then eventually by Guy Halfhead.

Uzo, who has perfected the art of running directly (only) when picking up from the base, broke from a scrum and charged up field, though was eventually caught by the retreating defenders. The men in yellow were putting together phases including rucks and mauls and looked dominant. Neil Cunningham popped short to Uzo from another scrum, who took men out close, then fed a rapidly advancing Tom Jepps who crashed over from close-range for 12 – 3. In the tight, Tabard were struggling: the scrums were creaking and the lineout under huge pressure, John Young especially breaking away from the lineout belying the years to force Tabard to rush their ball. The away team, realising where their deficiencies and strengths lay, tried to run it from everywhere. Our defence thwarted Tabard at the gain-line and an ill-judged pass along the backs was gratefully anticipated by James Hardwick to cruise over through the centres. He converted his own try for Hackney to lead 19 – 3.

Cunningham, in true apostate tradition, was currently enjoying yet another conversion from Scrum Half to Back Row to Scrum Half again, and was revelling in the barking of as opposed to the receiving of barked orders from 9. Runners off of 9 were organised masterfully, causing big incursions around the fringes, Glenn Prowse cutting swathes ably supported by Rolfin Nyhus, Halfhead and Johnson, the ball then shipped wide to the hungry Hackney backs, Hee-Won finishing off another great piece of structured home-team play.

The pattern of play continued: Hackney runners off the base making yards and taking out players, Tabard scrabbling to defend and, when they did procure ball, pass out wide to their fast and elusive runners. To get any foothold on possession though, they needed to stop our forward runners, but how? A forearm smash to the head of the wonderfully-coiffured Rolfin Nyhus was the preferred answer; the referee, sadly unsighted.

The resulting scrum saw Prowse acting both quick AND elusive, slicing through the fringe defences, but also not realising that yellow on blue (with a splash of red) is VERY different to blue on yellow. The final ball, with try line looming and support runners screaming, fell into enemy hands. A series of kicks followed where Hee-Won saw the opportunity to smash the receiver (a growing feature of the game which saw the end of at least a couple of the Tabard team’s afternoons) and ball smuggled back from a maul presented Cunningham with two options: a) ‘pass it to the massed ranks of attendant Hackney backs’ or b) ‘use them as a decoy, dummy and run straight through a disintegrated defence’ option (AKA ‘the Dan Worth’). There was only ever one winner. Hardwick converted for a 32 – 3 lead.

The Gargoyles’ rucking machine was working well, but a series of curious penalties against Hackney in the ruck followed, the last of which led to a Tabard centre barrelling over the line from a scrum, where he touched down despite the close attentions of 3 home-team players.

The tremendous pace of the first 30 minutes effort was bound to eventually catch up with the Gargoyles though, and a defensive lapse from the kick off allowed a Tabard back to break out from the 22 from the restart. He was eventually collared by Cunningham, who put in a long box kick to again present Hee-Won with the opportunity to almost sever an opponent clean in half. He didn’t shy away from the opportunity.

Quick phases and good hands allowed Hee-Won to put Eldon Takitimu away in the corner. The cheers and natured banter from the massed crowd (injured 2s stars of yesteryear, as well as well-lubricated 1st team players celebrating their victory of earlier in the day) filled the clear Hackney sky. All seemed to be well in the land of the Gargoyles.

Cunningham was finding more space around the fringes and again waltzed through non-existent defence before, within metres of the line, deciding to chip and chase. He didn’t win the foot race to the bouncing ball and Tabard were able to keep the swarming yellow-jackets out. The referee, was fast developing melissophobia, not aided by the ever-increasing drone of discontented Hackney voices and had now decided that we were infringing in the ruck too often. We took offence and remonstrated in the most polite of ways, the official having none of it and marched Hackney back the best part of half the pitch for dissent. The half ended with Tabard ominously threatening the line with their speedy backs, but, for the time being as denied of ball, to little avail.

The half time team talk was to keep the potential Tabard points-tally to zero for the remainder of the game. “Forward structure, forward structure, forward structure!” was to be the ethos of the 2nd half, in order to avoid the game descending into yet another rugby basketball affair (again).

Luke Hearn came on for Cunningham, Johnson returned (now permanently) for crocked skipper Ben Veyrac. The Gargoyles started the 2nd half well, a long kick to Davis James fielded and shipped to Hee-Won, who ran an arc from the right taking him through the heart of Tabard’s defence (now down to 12 players, scrums going uncontested). Side-stepping and swerving like a derailed locomotive on crazy tracks, the winger straightened his run and unselfishly offloaded to a perfectly-positioned George Bevan who had come off the left wing in an attempt to double his season’s try-scoring tally, and touched down under the posts.

Complacency at facing depleted opponents began to creep into Hackney’s game. Rucks were not looking as dominant as before, mauls were making great ground but resulting in knock ons and Prowse’s great driving runs were becoming increasingly unsupported.

On one phase of play in our 22, we kicked to clear our lines, Tabard kicked back, we kept the ball to hand and good hands from Hearn, Prowse, and then to Hee-Won gave him space wide right for him to burn a trail up the touchline and run in under the posts and bring up the half-century.

With the game won, adrenalin began to drop and a combination of kicked away possession and slow line speed allowed Tabard to run in a try on our left.

Not to be outdone, the best (and only!) set move of the game came from a scrum. Takitimu switched with Jepps and fed Bevan coming in off the left. He powered through the middle and off-loaded to Hardwick, then Hearn. Hearn linked with Hee-Won on the right, eventually finding Davis, who, though half-scragged, presented the ball for Uzo to crash through a retreating defence.

With the game then very definitely won, Hackney removed foot from pedal and lost structure, conceding 3 tries through a lack of tackling and poor defensive alignment. If only the game had finished 20 minutes earlier...

Man of the Match: Hee-Won Cho.
Scored a hat-trick, set up another 2, and smashed Tabard’s players all day. Despite being currently burdened with a high level of work commitments, Hee-Won more than adequately filled in on the Gargoyles’ right wing. Hopefully not for the last time this season...