Unlike the vast majority of London 3 North West teams, Hackney RFC is one of the few clubs located in the city, in the idyllic surroundings of East London where the grass is greener and life is a bit more fast-paced.

 

The only disadvantage to it being situated in London’s Garden of Eden has been that Hackney have always had to travel some distance to play other clubs. While the likes of Stevenage, Datchworth and St. Albans are all within spitting distance of each other, throughout their illustrious careers the Hackney faithful have had to undertake long journeys to dish out beatings to the country boys. Last Saturday would be no different as the Griffins took the express train to deepest Hertfordshire to take on mid-table Hitchin.

 

It was a bright and brisk October afternoon but the opposition would not be as accommodating. Not for the first (or second or third) time this year, Hackney played below themselves in the opening exchanges. There were moments of brilliance as the Griffins stemmed the tide of attack with crucial turnovers and shuddering hits but the opposition were efficient in their use of a deceptively advantageous breeze and maintained good field position. This pressure would eventually be turned into 3 points as the Hitchin standoff converted a penalty from directly in front of the posts.  


Hackney created their own opportunities off the back of a well-oiled line-out but uncharacteristic unforced errors saw them leave the red zone time and time again with nothing to show for.


Buoyed by a home crowd baying for blood Hitchin were in the ascendency. With Sam Wilkinson down injured Hitchin exploited an overlap to make a break down the left flank of the pitch. Guy Watmore made the crucial covering tackle but the referee deemed him too high and the full back was given 10 minutes in the bin. Moments later Hitchin found space out wide to record the first try of the game. This was converted to give the hosts a 10 point lead into the interval.


With the wind in their favour for the second 40 Hackney wasted little time in taking advantage of the elements. Two penalties in quick succession put Hackney to within a score before fly halves’ exchanged further kicks to leave the scores at 13-9 to Hitchin.


Hackney would take the lead for the first time in the game around the 60 minute mark with a combination of patient build up play from the pack and intelligent interplay between of Watmore and Ali Dunlop to seal the deal in the corner. The conversion was made to leave Hackney with a 16-13 lead. A Hitchin player was yellow carded in the process following a lengthy penalty count and it looked like Hackney were about to close the game out.


Play ebbed and flowed but Hitchin’s big ball carriers make good ground into the Hackney half. A break and grubber left Guy Watmore with a breaking ball to clear up. You’d expect someone who shared the genes with a Premier League footballer to make light work of a simple side foot to touch but in a moment that could tip the nature vs nurture debate Watmore miscued his attempt before his opposition man capitalized on the northerner’s misfortune. Hitchin supporters and players ran to the try scorer like a flock of classless soccer players to celebrate the crucial score. Vitally, the conversion was missed.


After the highs of an impeccable start to the season, Hitchin were forcing a spoonful of reality down Hackney’s throat. Even the most strong-willed would be left weary by such a blow but over years the Griffins have grown accustomed to making a comeback.  


Hackney chased their own restart and Ben Chamberlain put his 10 foot wing span to good use as he soared above his opponents and secured the ball in Hitchin territory. Focused on the task at hand Hackney grinded forward. Ball was carried, protected and recycled meticulously and just as they had done all day the home side attempted to spoil the play at all cost. Hitchin’s luck and the referee’s patience ran out at the same time and Hackney were awarded with a tricky but kickable penalty.


Determined to finish Hitchin off, but more importantly keep his Morne Steyn-esque kicking percentages up, fly half Askham tucked his giant cahonas to one side and slotted the most important penalty of the season thus far to give Hackney the lead with less than two minutes to go.


Hitchin won their own restart and with a point separating teams it was officially squeeky-bum time. Having procured such a fight back Hackney were determined not to pull a “Hitchin” as their defence repelled every phase of attack, eventually forcing the knock on and a 19-18 win.


Hackney had won ugly but plenty of lessons were there to be learned. The slow train was taken back home as the team prepare for next week’s game against Datchworth who have lost just once in their opening 5 games.