On Saturday last the Griffins welcomed Hemel Hempstead to Fortress Spring Hill, a venue where they have won consecutively since early January. Not since last season’s loss to eventual league winner’s Belsize Park (boo hiss) have Hackney tasted defeat on their home patch and this record would stand as the Griffins did just about enough to come away with a try bonus victory, but they didn’t have it all their own way. The same fixture 12 months ago saw Hackney crush Hemel 48-10. Given that Hemel have already as many points as last season with half as many games played it was fair to say that this would be a much tighter affair.

The game got under way with the Griffins kicking off towards the River Lea. The home side dominated the early exchanges with Hemel struggling to master the gain line. A physical presence close to the ruck and vigorous tackling out wide saw Hackney looking comfortable but for a few penalties that went the way of the visitors. One such coming after back-row Fraser Tait introduced himself to the opposition’s number 10 with a tackle that may have been a touch late. A former student of economics at Loughborough University Tait would have been well aware of his early investment.

Sustained pressure from Hackney saw them knocking on Hemel’s door with exuberant running and a dominant set-piece. Numerous strong carries from the pack gave the backs a disorientated defence to run at with Al O’ Hara picking out unmarked pin runner Rich Frost. Frost then executed the 2 on 1 (yes, you read that right) to send Guy Watmore over the line for the opening score of the day.

An impressive re-start and chase saw Hemel manage to retrieve their own ball, finding themselves in Hackney territory for the first time. The Griffins did well to repel attacks but were undone by an opportunist dart form the Hemel scrum-half off the back of a disintegrating scrum. The try was converted to leave the game 7-5 in favour of the visitors.

Hemel grew in confidence as the half wore on and threatened when they put width on the ball. This high risk strategy worked well at times but greasy conditions meant that handling errors quite often put an end to their momentum. One such spillage was snaffled up by Watmore who cleverly ran away from his supporting players before passing (off his weak hand no less) to space. The ball wobbled through the air like a sick bluebird before fellow winger PJ Lloyd latched onto it to canter away for Hackney’s second try. 

Hackney returned to the score board soon after with a third try courtesy of Sean Conner. Hemel responded at the stroke of half time with a well worked try of their own down the short side to see their openside flanker break away and score just to the left of the uprights. The conversion left the score at 17-14 to the Griffins at the break.

The second half saw the physicality increase as both sides looked to take a stranglehold on the game. Have you ever, following a game of murder ball at Mabley Green, found yourself asking “Why?”. Well Saturday was your answer as Hackney rolled up their sleeves and took the game to Hemel in the face of a stiff breeze. This intensity saw hackney rarely leave the Hemel half and the Griffins were unlucky not to extend their lead but for an off day at the kicking tee for Askham. With the going soft, heavy in places, Askham struggled to get his footing and his attempts at were goal best described as moudlie (!).

O’ Hara took over the kicking duties and extended Hackney's lead to 23 – 14 with a brace of penalties before Lloyd got a brace of his own. This gave Hackney the all important fourth try as well as a 16 point lead with 15 minutes to go. The remainder of the match was played largely in Hackney territory as the home side looked to close out the game. An organized and aggressive defence did a sterling job only to be undone with the last play of the game as Hemel made good use of an overlap for a consolation try. Eager to squeeze one last tackle into the game Dave “The Akksman” Akkersdyke tried todislodge the ball in the act of scoring but somehow found his knees slaloming into his opponents’ back with all the accuracy of a drunken sailor. He received a yellow card for this indiscretion but it made little difference as the referee then blew the full time whistle and Hackney had cemented their place at the top of the table with a 30-21 win.

A turning point in more ways than one, the Griffins capped off the first half of the season securing 54 out of a possible 55 points while also increasing the gap between first and second place. They next face Finchley before a well deserved Christmas break.

MOTM goes to no. 13 Sean Conner. Unlikely to get the top try scorer or player of the season award (again) it seems unfair that Conner receive no accolades for his swashbuckling displays, so here you go mate.