The opening round of league games saw newly promoted Hackney RFC welcome West London rivals Hammersmith and Fulham to Spring hill. This was not a clash for the faint hearted with the lead changing regularly and a slender two points the difference after 80 minutes. 

Playing into the wind in the first half, the Griffins started the game the better of the two sides with several sustained attacks on the Hammers try line. Trenchant carries from the hungry pack drew in defenders and as the phases grew so did the space out wide. The ball was eventually put through the hands of the backline (and one very lost prop) to gift Josh Joseph a try on debut. Charlie King uncharacteristically missed the conversion to leave the score 5 – 0.

With first blood drawn by the home side, the visitors began to raise the tempo of the game and saw the most reward by keeping the ball tight with the forwards. Penalty after penalty alongside the boot of Hammers 10 had Hackney pinned back as they tested the home sides try line defence. Multiple attacking mauls were nullified, some legally some not, before the visitors settled on taking 3 points for their maiden excursion into the Griffins 22. A moral victory for the hosts.

The Griffins wasted little time in responding with a 3 pointer of their own before the West Londoners took the lead for a first try from a line-out close to Hackney’s try line, A.N. Other Maul the benefactor. The score, 8 – 10.

Playing into the wind towards the end of the first half Hackney hinted that they were fairing the better of the two sides in challenging conditions. Line breaks from Fraser Tait and Cian MacDonagh provided considerable momentum before weaving runs from the outside backs brought Hackney to the oppos 22. Pressure turned to penalties and the Griffins opted to go to the corner. A clean line-out take set up a maul that slowly edged towards the white wash. Never one to miss an opportunity for a gimme try winger PJ Lloyd joined the rolling maul just in time to rip the ball from it’s holder and crash down in a blaze of shame and glory.

King stepped up again but this effort was just shy of the mark leaving the scores 13 – 10.

With time almost up Hackney just had to close out the half. A solid clearing kick from Guy Watmore made plenty of yards but didn’t find touch. The Hammers countered with a run against a defence so charitable it could have had its own fundraising day. A staggered defensive line was punished with slick hands and the visitors scored in the corner. A touchline conversion left some salt in the wound before the whistle blew for half time and a scoreline of 13 -17.

Things went form bad to worse in the opening stanza of the second half as Hackney struggled to clear their lines. Deft interplay form the Hammers backs put them into space and a lead of 11 points opened up, a position that Hackney had not found themselves in for some time.

From the restart the visitors, now with their tails up, attempted to run their way out of their own half. With the makings of an overlap on, their centre’s no look pass to space was well read by his opposite man Josh Joseph who intercepted to run clear for his second try. This attempt too went unconverted to leave it a 6-point game.

This was the momentum changer that Hackney needed and they put the shift in motion to good use. It wasn’t long until they found themselves in their oppositions half once more and following multiple indiscretions they came away 3 points to the goods and a Hammers player in the bin. Hackney’s next try was probably their best as almost every back touched the ball in the lead up to Sean Conner dotting down. Charlie “You don't get bonus points for conversions” King missed the uprights to leave the scores at 26 – 24.

Entering the dying stage of the game Hammers had three gilt edged opportunities to retake the lead but a combination of poor decision making and blind luck kept the Griffins in front. Hackney did eventually find themselves in the right end of the pitch with a penalty in hand to close out the game. Munster rugby was the call as the forwards were told to wind down the clock from a line out. What ensued was a brand of game management reminiscent of peak Gloucester. Some of the greatest strategic blunders come to mind, Hitler invading Russia, David Cameron's Brexit and Ed Sheeran appearing on games of thrones.

If the Griffins were the Cherry and Whites then Josh Joseph was our very own Billy Twelvetrees. The young pivot called to put the ball wide before the next pass was spilt forward gifting Hammersmith one last throw of the dice. The visitors pressed and pressed making 20 metres as tension mounted. The ball was spun wide to their dangerous winger only for him to take one jink too many and be dragged into touch.

The sweet sensation of relief descended upon Spring Hill as the Griffins claimed the win. It was a momentous occasion for the small club tucked away in North Hackney and a match befitting of such.

Next week Hackney turn their attention to old rivals Belsize Park who they will meet for the first time in over 18 months to rekindle a fond rivalry.