“This could be a banana skin”, said the full-back to the lock, as they embarked together upon the long road to Cheshunt, in the Borough of Broxbourne. It was an astute observation – Hackney have been hit by injuries in key positions, and were set to face an eager, newly-promoted side. But the final outcome belied such caution: Hackney returned from Hertfordshire with no further injuries, a renewed confidence in the depth of talent at the club, and last but not least the full five points, and a place at the top of the league.

This was no easy win however – Cheshunt started strongly, obviously eager to claim their second scalp of the season after defeating Finchley in early October. With a cold wind at their backs, and equipped with a redoubtable line-out, the hosts monopolised ball and territory in the opening quarter. A strong maul was driven over the line for the opening try. 5-0.

For once well beaten in both line-out and scrum, Hackney resorted to moments of individual brilliance to stay in the game. In particular the visitors relied on captain PJ Lloyd, who rose to the occasion magnificently. Taking advantage of a passage of broken play, he collected the ball on the half-way line, comfortably beat the covering defenders, and calmly touched down behind the posts. His speed, so surprising to the unfamiliar observer, drew gasps of disbelief from the large home crowd, but they would be in no doubt as to his ability by the final whistle. Askham was sure to add the conversion and get the visitors ahead.

Poor discipline has been a constant concern for Hackney head coach Marcus Tobin this season, a blotch on an otherwise exemplary copy book. All too often a dominant Hackney side is wont to gift the opposition a lifeline, conceding penalties and accumulating yellow cards. Despite a quiet start from the referee, it wasn’t too long before a penalty allowed Cheshunt to reclaim the lead. And once the referee had found his whistle, he was keen to keep using it. Luckily for the men in blue, yellow, blue, and green, Lloyd was on hand again to make it 8-12 at the break.

In the second half, Cheshunt rejoined the fray with ambition and renewed application, spinning phases together, and frequently changing the direction of play. The reliable Hackney defence gave them little, until another penalty brought the home side to within a point. Perhaps against the run of play, the Hackney backs grabbed hold of the ball, and some typically fierce running from Dunlop set Lloyd on course for his hat trick. Now in a more comfortable position, the visitors finally grew in confidence and displayed some fluent teamwork. A well-worked line-out, followed by a huge driving maul brought the attack to within touching distance. Soon enough, more good forward work allowed Sudell to burst across the line. The back row thus rounded off an excellent personal performance, and secured Hackney a valuable bonus point.

In the last 10 minutes, Cheshunt threw everything at Hackney. Stirling defence work from 1 to 15 was undermined by more disciplinary lapses, until the referee lost patience, and sent Ward to the touchline for a chance to think about what he’d done. Using the width of the pitch well, the Cheshunt backs combined in a fine move, which allowed their winger to exploit the overlap and score in the corner in the dying moments of the game. But it was too little too late.

A couple of favourable results elsewhere in the league allowed Hackney to claim top spot in the league – though it will be three more games, with fixtures against both main rivals, before the Griffins can claim to be true Herbstmeisters. As for Cheshunt, their place in the table belies some real talent, and an excellent spirit. Smart money will certainly back them to avoid relegation this season, and to prosper in years to come.