The opening game of Hackney’s 51st Season saw the Griffins welcome league new comers Kilburn Cosmos to Springhill. Heavy rain from start to finish hampered either team from getting consistent phase play or wide ball but the conditions wouldn’t stop the Griffins from coming away with a valuable bonus point win.

There would have been a lot of interest around this game as it was an early look at one of the favourites for promotion, the Griffins, as well as unknown entities Kilburn, who lost just twice en route to promotion last season. Hackney received the kick off with Johnny Crockett taking the ball under pressure. Sam Wilkinson orchestrated his pack two phases up the pitch to give Alex O’ Hara a platform to launch the ball into Kilburn’s half of the pitch, where Hackney would remain for the majority of the half. Discipline at the breakdown as well as a mature defensive effort saw Hackney control the opening exchanges without having to do too much work with ball in hand.

The hosts would open the scoring following sustained pressure in Kilburn’s 22. Penalty after penalty saw O’ Hara pepper the corner flag as Hackney’s line out stamped it’s authority on the game. Ben Chamberlain, James Legg and the aforementioned Crockett were infallible while marksman Will Bowers found his jumpers. The champagne rugby was put on ice with calm and confident play the order of the day as Hackney chipped away at Kilburn’s defensive line before exploiting an overlap to put Joe Askham into the corner. Despite the unpleasant overhead conditions, which included incessant drizzle and an annoying cross wind, O’ Hara added the conversion from out wide for a 7 point lead. This score was followed up with more of the same as Hackney pinned Kilburn into their own half. The pressure and penalty count started to mount and the Kilburn 12 was shown yellow for his team’s troubles.

Hackney didn’t take a step back, from line out to tight exchanges to open play and debutant Fraser Tait bagged himself a try as the Kilburn defence was left in disarray. Hackney entered the break 14-0 up having adjusted to the conditions better than their opponents. The second half saw Kilburn gain more of a foothold on the game as their half backs worked the corners for field position. The back three dealt with these kicks in expert fashion, except for this one time when one of them (who knows) fumbled a testing kick from his own 22 to his 5 metre line before Kilburn pounced on the breaking ball to score a try. In a game where every single player knocked the ball on, no one quite knocked the ball in such fashion. The ensuing conversion was missed and Hackney held a 9-point cushion.

With so many knocks ons scrum time would be paramount. Bolstered by an unwavering front row and Matt Strong making the hard yards from eight Hackney resumed the ascendency and once again found themselves camped in Kilburn’s half of the pitch. Hackney were awarded a penalty but instead of taking a shot at the posts PJ Lloyd choose to go with a move uncovered while he prepared intensely over the summer months for his new role of captain. Straight out of the Chris Robshaw playbook of closing out games Lloyd chose to go for the corner. Bolstered by the confidence instilled by their beloved leader the Hackney forwards won their line out and promptly marched over the Kilburn white wash with second-row Crockett the beneficiary. O’Hara missed the conversion to leave Hackney 14 points in front.

The East Londoner’s wouldn’t have everything their own way as Kilburn’s telegraphic style of play made inroads. The phrase “If you throw enough spaghetti at the wall eventually some will stick” comes to mind for Kilburn’s second try as they pick and drove over Hackney’s try line. The conversion was missed to leave two scores between the teams but Hackney didn’t waste much time in seeking redemption. Hackney hunted down their own kick off and Ben Chamberlain pressurised the Kilburn receiver to spill the ball forward before Lloyd could intervene and work it up to Kilburn’s 5 metre line. Bash ‘em brothers Sam Alderson and Fraser Tait punched holes in the defence all day and the former was on hand to claim a well deserved Waldromesque try and a bonus point for Hackney. The conversion was missed and Hackney remained two scores ahead. This lead was extended 5 minutes later as O’ Hara slotted a tricky penalty to put Hackney tree scores ahead, invariably ending the game as a contest.

Hackney’s defence was more organised and unified than it had been in recent memory but one moment of individual brilliance stood out. The Kilburn full back had been causing Hackney problems with elusive countering runs all day but the 1610 Express train from Edinburgh would put an end to his folly. New recruit Alastair Dunlop chased a testing high kick only to find man and ball in spectacular fashion 40 yards later, t-boning his opposite man into pre-season.

With only minutes left on the clock the collective Hackney mind-set couldn’t help itself to a little razzle dazzle and, with exceptionally slick hands, worked the ball coast to coast from their own half into Kilburn’s 22. The cherry on the cake would be a perfectly executed crossfield kick into the path of a doe eyed Joe Askham. Askham, already envisioning telling the lads about his catch on tour next Spring, uncharacteristically let the ball bounce in and out of the bread basket to a chorus on moans from the crowd.

Hackney would go on to close out the game in the opposition’s half for what was a promising start to the season. Next up, a trip to Finchley who finished one position below the Griffins last season.