A crisp blue sky littered with rays of glorious sunshine greeted the Griffins on arrival at Hackney Marshes for a grudge match against Belsize Park, after a high scoring defeat on their turf earlier in the season.

Pre-match talk was intense and akin to Pacino’s notorious ‘Peace by Inches’ Any Given Sunday monologue, with Prof Bowers reprising big Al’s role in the huddle. Though potentially less roid-raged then our American counterparts there was a distinct air of being ‘psyched’ for this one. With Bowers espousing the necessity of wanting the tackle, needing the tackle and loving the tackle, presumably innuendo not on his agenda and clearly nor was it on the minds of the hungry Griffins.

Kick-off brought early pressure from the Belsize boys, something of a relentless battering of the Hackney line, which was resisted admirably and staunchly, the earlier mentioned tackle desire speech had clearly done the trick. However, the pressure was telling and a series of misdemeanours at the breakdown led to the referee issuing a ‘red zone penalty warning.’ Despite this warning it was with no small degree of surprise that onlookers then bore witness to a penalty try decision off the back of a humungous hit on one of the, now toiling, Belsize Park forwards. The call was for not rolling away but the man in purple had flown backwards approximately four yards and it was difficult to see how the infringement had directly prevented a try being scored. A card perhaps, but points against seemed harsh.

Regardless, Hackney rallied admirably and turned up the heat now, perhaps riled by the seeming injustice of the decision. We played smart and effective rugby to drive the ball into their half and keep Belsize Park camped in their own 22. Belsize managed frantic clearances away a few times only for Hackney to relentlessly come back harder, but we needed points from this pressure. Eventually they came from a perfectly orchestrated and executed driving maul, the four-ball worked a treat and this would become a running theme for the rest of the game.
In a game that would be characterised by two teams trading punches blow for blow and really fronting up, Belsize themselves then came back very strongly. Perhaps a bit of a self-congratulatory lapse in concentration from the Griffins allowed this to happen. But we were soon faced by wave after wave of forward runners crashing into the Hackney line, followed by quick and effective wide ball from Belsize Park. In particular, yours truly sadly performed a perfect impression of Swan Lake/Olympic level backstroke/Keanu Reeves’ bullet time best, after a big lump took a big run up and hit a big crash at the self-appointed guardian of the fringe. The breaking of the line gave Belsize all the invitation they needed to ruck over quickly, spread the ball wide and score soon afterwards. We then conspired to concede again and it was with no small relief that the halftime whistle blew, 5-21 at the break.

Calmness descended upon the huddle at halftime, anger was not the order of the day and, with the help of some choice words from Gareth, the Griffins looked back on the half with pride. A ten minute spell of madness had cost us dearly but apart from that we were in the ascendancy. It was a tight, hard, physical but great game of rugby thus far and we’d been on top, it was time to turn the screw and come back into the game.

Renewed from the halftime break the Griffins sought to rediscover that domination that had defined much of the first half. Thankfully we did so, with countless hits up the middle from the big lads battering a now tiring Belsize Park defence. Some excellent forward marshalling and ball distribution from scrum half Charles O’Halloran allowed us to set up shop in the Belsize Park 22 again. It was no surprise when another driving maul brought the second score of the day for Hackney, with a Herculean effort from the pack taking the ball in from about 10 yards out. 12-21, Game On.
Hackney continued in a similar vein and were rewarded again minutes later, when clever play on the blind side around the fringes allowed Ben Chamberlain to touch down once more, securing an unexpected but extremely welcome hat-trick. 19-21, Very Much Game On.

Unfortunately the fairy tale ending wasn’t quite to be for the Griffins, with a late penalty from Belsize park nudging the score out to 19-24. We came close, showing the same level of relentless determination and effort but never quite managed to get that last elusive score. At the end of an extremely even contest played in a good spirit, both teams were generous in their praise of the other which highlighted that this was a cracking game of rugby which could have gone either way, and gives us plenty of positives to build upon for the rest of the season. Special mention to Alex Readford having an absolute stormer, carrying well up the middle and playing his last game of the season in order to escape to some sort of Antipodean paradise, we wish him all the best.