After a disappointing outing at Belsize Park last week, the Griffins took on London Nigerians in an entertaining and ferociously contested fixture in west London. The end of September marks that time of year when retailers begin their festive campaigns and your mum’s friend Sue complains that Christmas gets earlier every year. It was perhaps foreseeable, then, that in a fit of premature seasonal charity the Griffins should treat their high-flying hosts to both a decent display of attacking rugby and a variety hamper of errors worth at least 25 points, featuring a range of delicacies such as Twelve Point Headstart, Intercepted Pie, and Compounded Mistake.

The day began with the tedium of a twenty-three stop tube journey to Hounslow, notable for being the setting of the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, and, unless anyone can correct me, not all that much else. With the first team squad decimated by matrimony, the Griffins had not enjoyed an easy start to life in London 2, but a fine day and a firm track offered an opportunity to right the wrongs of the previous week. A clear message was communicated in the warm-up: avoid penalties by leaving defensive rucks alone, and attack the mauls hard and early to negate the strength of the hosts’ pack. 

But in keeping with the commandments governing rugby in Hackney, the more an instruction is emphasised prior to kick-off, the more likely it is that it will be contravened within the first ninety seconds thereafter. In due fashion, a penalty was immediately given away after some breakdown naughtiness, and Nigerians rumbled over for an unconverted try from a well-organised driving maul. A second was added shortly after leaving Hackney two scores down after ten minutes. 

However, the Griffins have practised giving the opposition an early lead all season (see Harlow, Woodford etc) and eventually settled into their stride. After some sustained pressure, Fraser Tait crashed over, and a turnover sparked a 70 metre counter-attack finished by skipper PJ Lloyd. Amongst all this there were ten minutes riding pine for both Tom Gardner (tackling technique deemed too Northern), and Nigerians’ skipper (for reasons not apparent to any of the thirty participating players). Hackney’s scores came either side of an opportunistic try for the home side as the ball broke loose, leaving the game 19-17 in favour of the hosts at half time. 

The second half began disappointingly with Nigerians gaining a try from a 5 metre scrum. This incensed young prop Dave Lewis, who perceived a blatant technical infringement. I believe this was something to do with pushing. But hot young heads are tempered by old in this Hackney side, and the experienced Matt Strong was on hand to advise that “the scrum is not a game of chess.” 

It has been noted above that the Griffins were in a generous mood and just as they were seeking to re-establish themselves in the game, one of the backs turned Santa Claus-in-Chief. I forget who. But I’m sure the beneficiary of the gift must have made a hell of a read, as what began as a two metre pop pass into midfield off an attacking line-out ended 70 metres later with a try for the opposition under the Hackney posts.

Still the Griffins fought back, with some slick backs moves and a lovely line from Sean Conner yielding five points, improved to seven by the impeccable place-kicking of Joe Askham. But Hackney could not quite peg back the crucial second score before Nigerians struck again, although an attacking bonus point was secured through a powerful charge from Dave Lewis, presently a surprise entry at number 2 in the men’s scoring charts. 

When Nigerians’ elderly coach subbed himself on, Hackney might have sensed an opportunity to lift spirits with a late comeback ahead of the club’s bowling social at Rowans. But it was instead the Griffins who were skittled, the aged replacement rampaging majestically down the right hand touchline to leave the final score at 41-31. 

The mood was mixed in the dressing room afterwards, for while the Griffins had repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in a match they could have won, the skill and desire shown to get back into the game on each occasion was commendable. Next week sees Hackney back at Spring Hill to take on Harrow.