Hackney edge out Belsize in tense encounter

Hackney ran out winners against old rivals Belsize Park on Saturday at a cold and damp Spring Hill.

Three years on, two leagues higher and 20 degrees colder than the last time Hackney chalked up a win against the peaked cap and singlet brigade, the Griffins fortunes would finally match that day in April 2014 as they secured a tight win against resilient opposition.

Hackney – showing no sign of the five straight losses that had followed that Herts/Midd 1 title

clincher – started brightly in the December mist, giving the bumper crowd of 10-15 ardent rugby

lovers something to supplement their mince pies and port.

With some early field position secured, the Belsize pack infringed at the breakdown and Mick

Hucknall’s Irish cousin Ultan Murphy stepped up to nudge a 40 yard 3 pointer.

From the restart Hackney surged forward again – led by the vanguard of Fraser ‘outside arc’ Tait,

and Matt Strong – and following quick ball in the Belsize 22, Joe Fresh Askham made textbook use of a four man overlap to show-n- go his way to the whitewash.

The Belsize protests, led by an insatiable scrum half, couldn’t distract the referee from the clear and obvious ‘Gilbert’ imprint in the boggy surface and the certain try was rightly awarded.

Possibly spurred by a sense of injustice, the Belsize runners found some extra bite, and following one particular barrage that left Tait crocked and Hackney rocked, a kickable penalty was conceded close to the line. The Belsize fly half duly obliged and torpedoed Hackney’s erstwhile bagel.

The game wore on, punctuated by some probing, intelligent and not-at- all aimless kick tennis, as the two sides waited for mistakes and territory to come their way. It was the home side who won net gains from these memorable passages of play, and following a scrum deep in the Belsize 22, solid trucking from Crockett & Co. tied in the defence and made room for the clean-shirted backline to get into the game.

The deftest of touches from the King let Conner into the wide channel where – faced with a two-on-one or the temptation to use his searing pace to score himself – he grudgingly gave the scoring pass to skipper Lloyd to scamper home.

And so to the second half, where Belsize got the better of an increasingly tense contest as Hackney’s set piece misfired across the park. Every time the Griffins found a way to gain possession and territory, it was coughed up soon after.

One particular crossfield kick perfectly set up Belsize to once again make camp on the Hackney line, and despite some of the finest fringe defence your editor has ever witnessed from an armchair out wide, Belsize ran in two close-range scores to take the lead, 17-22.

And so it was that Hackney had to dig deep to salvage something from a game they’d led for large

parts. The visitors – not satisfied with confidently making ground through one-dimensional phase

play – foolishly decided to chuck one wide, and after a turd was dropped in midfield Conner hacked through and set off on a lightning quick footrace.

The Belsize winger, who must’ve had a huge head start, looked to be reaching the ball first, but a

kind break of the ball left it for Conner, who flailed on the deck and found Joe Fresh Askham as the

surprising support runner.

Askham once again made textbook use of the four man overlap to show-n- go his way to the

whitewash and then nudge the points to wrestle back a lead Hackney wouldn’t relinquish.

It wasn’t plain sailing though, as Belsize laid siege to the Hackney line with an impressive onslaught of one-out running. It was all hands to the pump as nearly all Hackney’s defensive line was called into action, apart from your editor, PJ Lloyd and an out of position James Legg.

Following a robust examination on the goal line, which saw Matt Strong sin-binned for hands in the

cookie jar, Hackney’s rearguard won a crucial penalty to relieve the pressure. From the ensuing

lineout, the overly-eager Belsize back-row came round the side and conceded what looked to be the match-ending penalty.

Askham, keen to show everyone exactly how the new end-of- game-penalty laws work, tapped and nudged his way to memorable victory behind the referee’s back, only for a lineout to be awarded and incredulity to break out across the scum half’s face.

The home side duly lost the lineout and invited one further campaign from Belsize, who eventually

knocked-on to end the game and give Hackney the perfect Christmas present.