Hackney humbled at home by Hampstead

Hackney’s promotion campaign hit a Hampstead-shaped speed bump at the weekend as they suffered an unexpected home defeat to their relegation-threatened opponents. Hampstead turned the form books on their head to record only their third win of the season against a below-par Gargoyles side.

With Spring Hill unexpectedly declared playable for the first time since about 2011, Hackney’s squad looked forward to an opportunity to bolster the points difference against a Hampstead side that had surrendered meekly in the return match and had lost by over 70 points at home the week before. However it was evident from the word go that this Hampstead side was a very different beast, as they ignored the sticky conditions underfoot to play a wide game from the word go, keeping the ball away from the dominant Hackney pack. The Hampstead ambition was not, however, matched by accuracy and their backs were shut down by determined defence from Hackney’s centre pairing of Dan Worth and debutant Quentin Blochard. Inevitably however they strung three long passes together and the fleet-footed winger outpaced the Hackney defence to score the opening try under the posts. (0-7)

Hackney’s pressure began to tell and it was no surprise when the first try came as good work by the forwards allowed Matt Hanton to ignore an overlap and touch down from a few yards out. (5-7)

Hackney began to turn the screw and pile on the pressure. Ollie Adams was unlucky not to open his Gargoyles account as a pass was harshly adjudged to be forward (hands were definitely pointing backwards) and then again when some crossing in the midfield was spotted by the TMO from Friday night’s England game. As Hackney’s pressure mounted and was thwarted by a combination of good Hampstead defence and terrible Hackney handling the pivotal moment of the game occurred. With Hackney penalised for an infringement at the breakdown 10m from the line, Hampstead took a quick tap penalty to gain an extra 10m. A second quick tap followed almost immediately, and with Hackney’s defence understandably not expecting this flagrant contravention of law 21.7d, the Hampstead 9 and winger took advantage to run in for their second try. (5-14)

A shell-shocked Hackney had little time to get back in the game before the half-time oranges but there was resolve at half-time to take the fight back to Hampstead, keep it tight and use the complete dominance of the pack to good effect. Unfortunately Hampstead’s hooker had to go off shortly after half-time, with the inevitable uncontested scrums conveniently blunting one of Hackney’s weapons. A half of almost-total dominance for Hackney followed with the forwards tireless battering away in the tight and the backs finding joy out wide but the score just would not materialise. Poor decision-making and white line fever combined to waste good chances, though eventually the breakthrough came as good phase play left Hampstead out of defenders and allowed Tom Bentley to dive over from close range for a converted try (12-14).

Hampstead only threatened periodically as they kicked away much of their possession, but with Hackney’s frustration leading to indiscipline one of their forays inevitably ended in a penalty to extend their lead (12-17). Hackney had a couple more chances following this score, and hopes were briefly raised by the Hampstead kicker shanking a simple penalty wide, but in truth the home side did not deserve to take the spoils and there was to be no repeat of the last minute Belsize comeback.

Disappointment then for Hackney at losing a game that they had expected to win, though with games against Welwyn and Bishop Stortford still to come in the run in promotion is still in their own hands. Next up: a cup match against Fullerians and a chance to get back to winning ways.