Hackney entered this top-of-the-table clash knowing that victory would virtually secure promotion, whilst defeat would hand Belsize Park the league title. From the start, the game lived up to its season-long hype.

Both teams were quick out of the blocks, as early blows were traded. Hackney’s outside centre, Guy Watmore, was an early casualty after of an over-zealous dump tackle by his opposite man. That tackle might have earned the centre a spell in the sin-bin had it not been so early in the game. Despite showing perseverance, Watmore’s dazzling thirteen minute spell on the pitch was brought to an abrupt halt.

An open start to the game saw early attacks for both sides, but it was Hackney who drew first blood. A break down the right wing saw Ben Chamberlain emerge with the ball. Showing great strength and pace, Chamberlain fought his way over the line in a late attempt to snatch the coveted “Top Try Scorer” award from champion-elect Sam Wilkinson. Alex O’Hara duly converted the try from long range.

Seemingly calmer than their table-topping opponents, Hackney started to assert an overwhelming dominance up front. The stunned Belsize pack’s only reaction was an ever-increasing penalty count. Following a series of infringements, O’Hara took the opportunity to extend the lead to two scores with a penalty.

Hackney continued to grow into the game, revelling in the strong, vocal support from a packed touch line. A flowing move, following some intricate interplay between Rowbottom and Clark, set Mike Legg free down the right wing. Legg – who filled in seamlessly for Watmore at outside centre for exactly 67 minutes – finished well for Hackney’s second try. O’Hara once again slotted home the extras.

Throughout the first forty, Belsize Park had few opportunities to venture out of their own 22. A spate of Hackney line outs on the right hand side lead to a breakdown in the centre of the pitch. A late call from O’Hara, demanding the ball blind, caught Belsize short. With a scintillating turn of pace, the Hackney skipper slipped up through the gears – from second to third – evading two tackles and sliding in for Hackney’s third try. O’Hara missed with the conversion but lead his team in to half-time with a commanding 22-0 lead.

With the title on the line, Belsize came out of the break a different team. The Park pack started to make ground putting Belsize on the front foot. Pinned back in their own 22, Hackney’s impeccable discipline started to waiver. After a series of indiscretions, the Belsize Park’s fly-half made Hackney pay through an accurate penalty.

Belsize maintained this momentum and, before long, their pressure paid off. Following a sustained attack, Hackney’s defensive line was stretched, allowing Belsize to run in under the posts. The conversion was simple. By now, the large Belsize crowd could feel that the comeback was truly on. Growing in stature, Belsize’s second try came from a five metre scrum. Breaking down the blind side, it took one phase for Belsize to continue building their tally with another converted try.

With the score at 22-17, it was at this point that the game was truly won by Hackney. Digging in, with just under a quarter of the game left, Hackney showed incredible character to rebut the Belsize onslaught. A last-ditch covering tackle, by Matt Strong on the Belsize right wing, epitomised the commitment of the home team.

Growing frustrated, Belsize again started to concede penalties and on occasions tempers flared. Amidst this, Hackney’s captain Alex O’Hara capped his man of the match performance with a final show of nerve to slot home a late penalty. The end of the game brought jubilant scenes; Hackney march on to the final league game with promotion effectively secured and the title within their grasps.