Fresh from the glories (and hangovers) of achieving promotion the previous week at Harpenden, the Hackney Gargoyles faced another tough away trip to Fullerians RFC around the leafy areas of Bushey. In the previous meeting of these two teams it had been a much stifled snore draw on a delightful January Saturday where Captain Matt Hanton ignored a 3 man overlap in the dieing minutes to rattle a drop goal wide of the posts much to the dismay of his team mates. But alas this is taking away the focus of what was a must win semi-final against a fiery opposition. With Fullerian’s 2’s conveniently not in any cup competition it would be interesting to see what sort of side would be put out before us.

Hackney fielded a slightly changed line up with ‘promotion’ specialist Ollie Hart moving to 1’s and Uzo feeling his 2’s top tryscorer title insurmountable having a day off, allowed for Jonny Crockett and Hackney’s 2nd oldest non training, late arriving No 8 Guy Halfhead to come in. Both having a massive impact on the game to come. Fullerian’s kicked off and a frantic first 5 minutes saw both sides testing the waters before a charging run from the Fullerian’s No 8 was ended by being carried back and buried by Champagne Bouvier. The resulting turn over saw the ball kicked deep in to opposition territory and a well worked chase from the Hackney backline saw the Fullerian’s winger penalised for holding on whilst Tom Jepps and George Bevan squabbled over who was going to turn him over and score first. With Jonny ensuring that a endless supply of clean line out ball was coming ‘The Ticklers’ way Hackney were able to get strong go forward ball eventually allowing Issaco to go over near the posts. The ever reliant Skipper proceeded to hammer the easy kick wide. With first score under their belts Hackney continued to try and play their fluent attacking brand of expansive only being halted by a few balls being overtly lateral or spending a couple of weeks in defending mauls in the eyes of the Referee. Finally a jinking OD run saw Hanton receive the ball on his own 10m line and having read Alex O’Hara’s guide to the deceptive trundle proceeded to round the opposition Prop putting the Chancellor away up the wing turning his rival winger and fullback inside out at every opportunity making 40+metres in the process. With the try line begging and the promise of a few post match beers CD gave the ball to Hanton to fall over the line from a metre out to score a try in his last game as captain. Conversion scored 12-0 and with a number of Fullerians now struggling to continue after a series of battering’s from Hackney 1-15 it looked like the flood gates were to open. In the words of the Honeybadger ‘they were like the kid who fell out of the tree……they just weren’t in it’. However a combination of Hackney indiscipline and desire to overplay the ball at times saw the score line finish 12-3 at Half time.

And so it came to the moment 2 years in the making Matt Hanton’s last spiriting team talk as captain what words could instil fire, passion and desire into his teammates who were on the verge of a cup final as the coup de grace for a fine seasons graft. What words indeed? As at this point I was not paying the slightest bit of attention what so ever. But I am sure it was a belter Matt.

Hackney now playing down the hill again showed the emphasis to play positive following rugby, however the cohesiveness in the first half was disrupted by the arrival of a Fullerian ‘behemouth’ centre in mustard shorts with a mind nearly as sharp as his fashion sense. His cunning ploy to distract Jepps and Hanton with his ‘witty’ banter to counter his bolt upright running style nearly worked, but tremendous defensive work saw Fullerian’s kept out and pressure relieved. Hackney continued running the ball from deep with Charlie Davis now commanding from Full back he showed his trademark goose step after receiving the ball from a punt allowed him half a yard of space to pass the ever present George Bevan to be swarmed by 3 Fullerian defenders. Somehow he managed to break all three tackles and showed a clean pair of heels to go in under the posts from 80m. Hackney with their tails up now continued to press further up the field with Fullerians trying to relieve pressure through their big runners the big hits continued to come this time in the form of Halfhead felling a giant of a man, a panicked defence allowed Rhys Johnson an easy interception to go under the posts unchallenged.

With the result tied up Hackney blotted their copy book conceding a 2nd try when the opposition scrum half picked from the base of a scrum and stood Bevan up in the corner. With time still on the clock for one last attack Hackney managed to gather their own kick off and press up the field in the hunt for one last score beautiful support play and commitment from 1-15 however was all to be undone yet again... As Hanton received the ball dead in front of the posts on the 22m line a 3 man overlap and the try line beckoning, he proceeded to hit one of the sweetest drop goal attempts to make it no where near the posts you have ever seen, and with that the final whistle blew. Job done and the chance for some silverware lives on, with a Harpenden rematch again in a winner takes all match up.

MOM – Many contenders for this one but with a point to prove Guy Halfhead made a massive effort in defence and was his usual bullocking self with ball in hand.