After winning their previous nine games the Griffins welcomed Kilburn Cosmos to their alternate home at Hackney Marshes this weekend, in what was sure to be a real test of their promotion credentials. The Cosmos sat second in the league, one place above the Griffins and had soundly defeated them earlier in the year. Ultimately this would prove to be a thrillingly encounter won 25-22 by the Griffins who ended the game with 13 players.

The match started tensely with the Cosmos using the strong wind to gain field position and Hackney’s back three of Rowbottem, O’Hallahan and Legg working well together to field the ball. Eventually Kilburn were able to work good field position with a line out. However the larger Legg read the front dummy and easily plucked the ball out of the air in an early sign of the set piece dominance that the home side would enjoy throughout.

After ten minutes, the game started to settle down and Wilkinson was able to get his forwards going round the corner. Big carries from Tully, Strong and Bailey eventually led to a penalty within O’Hara’s range. 3-0 Griffins.

The resulting kick-off was completely titted up by Chamberlain who spilled the ball backwards, then, for good measure, knocked on trying to pick it up. In what would prove to be the bane of Hackney’s game a penalty conceded at the breakdown from the resulting phase led to a penalty, which was duly converted binging the scores level at 3-3.

Kilburn were spreading the ball ambitiously, trying to test the Hackney back line with their much larger backs. O’Hara, Sprague and Yong in the Hackney midfield had other ideas violently reposting the oncoming runners and leaving Kilburn with little choice, but to kick for field position. The Hackney lineout machine, set to Legg, delivered as usual and when Wilkinson found Isacco with a neat pass the Stallion was free in open country. He smashed through the first two would be tacklers and was away. Through on the fullback he produced a no look pass to Chamberlain, which was reminiscent of his countryman Parisse. With strong field position and Wilkinson directing his troops well, Hackney rumbled into the Cosmos 22. A huge carry form Tully in midfield dragged in one too many defenders and when the ball went left again Wilkinson was able to exploit the gap, diving over the line, in what is becoming his trademark move. 8-3 to the home side.

Strong did a slightly better job with the next kick-off, catching confidently, shimmying through the first two tacklers and carrying to the Kilburn 10. There he slipped the ball to Sprague who found Yong on the wing with a bullet. Yong stood up the first defender and went through on the fullback before being forced into touch. By this point Hackney’s set piece dominance and ferocity at the break down was beginning to take its toll on the Kilburn team, who were hardly seeing any ball. A superb driving maul from the lineout went 30 yards. When it was finally brought down, the Hackney pack, quick learners as ever, set up another one. After a bit of white line fever, the ball fell to Isacco, who was able to stretch out for the whitewash, only slightly diminishing the feat by winking at Sam’s girlfriend and dedicating the try to Ollie Hart. O’Hara slotted the conversion bringing the score to 15-3.
Thirty minutes in and the coaching team sent in the reinforcements. Burke immediately stamped his mark on the game, waltzing through a Kilburn maul he ripped the ball clean from the opposition arms for a superb turnover. Two minutes later he was at it again, this time with a huge carry that sucked in five defenders and released the backs with quick front foot ball.

Kilburn started the second half much better and were able to retain the ball in the Hackney half for the first time in the match. After a series of tight drives they forced a penalty and kicked to the five for a lineout. Once again the Hackney set piece came to the rescue, stealing the ball at the front. From the following clearing kick, Hackney’s pack turned over the next lineout as well and the early pressure was dissipated. Not to be outdone by his fellow replacement Pilkington pulled off a huge jackal turnover to gain Hackney field position. When the ball was knocked on, the second bastion of the Hackney set piece, the scrum, entered the fray. Huge pressure from the tight five allowed Chamberlain to catch the Kilburn 9 behind the scrum. Wilkinson was first to react ripping the ball from his flailing opposite number and flipping it between his legs. Luckily Wilkinson and Strong are telepathic and the 8 read the pass and carried to within a yard. Bailey picked and went, blocking out the despairing screams of Wilkinson and the four men who constituted one hell of an overlap. Noooooo… ….well done mate, great try, next job, could be heard from the sideline. O’Hara was on target again taking the score to 22-3.

Some Hackney players could be forgiven for thinking that this was probably enough, but to Kilburn’s credit and ably supported by an avalanche of penalties, the game was not done. Kilburn now had the lions share of possession. The Hackney midfield defence however was still proving impenetrable and when a Sprague blitz forced a dropped ball, he kicked through, scooped the ball without breaking stride and left the defenders for dead. Clean through, it was quite annoying when he chose to pass to one of the opposition players.

A series of events then turned the tide of the game. The influential Greater Legg injured a shoulder and was forced from the pitch and then Chamberlain inexplicably grabbed the face mask of a Kilburn mauler on a safe Hackney ball, conceding a penalty. Three penalties later and Kilburn were in for their first try and the score read 22-10.

O’Hara did manage a penalty to extend the lead to 25-10, but by now Kilburn were firmly in the ascendancy. The penalty count was getting ridiculous and another excellent turnover from Pilkington only offered a stay of execution. Kilburn, now routinely taking quick penalties, made use of another string on Hackney indiscretions to score in the corner, bringing the scores to 25-15. Strong, who had been on a warning, could not prevent the score by walking round the side of the ruck and kicking one of the Kilburn players. He was however, able to win himself a yellow card. Not wanting his friend to be lonely, Pilkington chose this moment to challenge the try scorer to a dual by manfully slapping the poor chap in the face about 4cm from the referee. Down to 13 then, shittums.
A few subs later and Sprague came in at 7, though no one was really sure why and unsurprisingly the last 10 minutes of the game were somewhat one way traffic. Hackney’s 13 men continued to defend with great credit. When the inevitable score came, it wasn’t until last play of the match, winning Kilburn a well deserved bonus point, but not the match.

Man of the Match Charles bailey, great carries, great darts and the try that won the game.