Hackney ensured there was no shortage of intensity to the year’s opening game as they withheld a late siege from London Nigerians to earn a maiden win over the visitors.

The team from South West London came into the game having been the league pace setters for much of the first half of the season and would have fancied a fourth scalp on the trot against the Griffins. Instead, the upwardly mobile Hackney showed the character that has seen them close out endless tight encounters to hold on for a deserved victory.

The day did not start well for the home side. Too many helpings of wagyu beef fillet over Christmas saw starting hooker Will Bowers’ ankle say sayonara during the warm-up. Thankfully, for the first time all season, Hackney 2s were also at home and Hackney could call upon on the ever reliable Mathieu Arneguy.

The opening exchanges saw play oscillating between either 22-metre line with neither team able to make much progress. Springhill was a glue-pot, the trampled paddock bringing a whole new meaning to ‘grassroots rugby’. Running rugby was going to be at a premium and the team with the stronger kicking game was going to be at a distinct advantage. With a breeze at their back Nigerians had a slight edge but Hackney’s back three, lead by Charlie King who now moonlights as a bearded beat poet, managed to repel any probing kicks.

At times, Hackney RFC has scholars abound. Take a few steps into the changing rooms pre-game, and you many find the occasional pro-plus induced opinion on the great philosophic questions of our times, an upcoming BBC documentary on Roman settlements, and the intricacies of all 3,182 of Beowulf’s poem being forced upon the starting Hackney XV. Classic locker room talk. And yet, there are times when a player’s knowledge falls short, their understanding found to be lacking, and their mind to have wandered from the task. Such a curse struck Joe Askham in the dying seconds of the Belsize game when - despite being known as one of the more astute legal minds at the club - he unwittingly kept the game alive by kicking the ball direct to touch after the clock had gone dead. Would such a mistake occur again? Surely not, the consensus agreed, for as conscientious a legal practitioner as Askham would most definitely have spent the Christmas break memorising the new World Rugby handbook cover to cover. And yet, it seems lightening does indeed strike the same place twice. At the end of the first half, with Hackney winning a crucial penalty on the visitor’s 5 m line, the scrum-half was tasked with taking the quick tap penalty. And yet, like a second seater trainee bungling what should have been a simple research task into the latest provisions of the Companies Act, Askham - for a second time in as many games - failed to know the law at the crucial moment and kept the ball in hand. Turnover ball and the visitors worked their way down the field.

A lapse in concentration at ruck time would break the deadlock as a Nigerians player picked and went to leave the pillar and post at sixes and sevens. The opportunist ball carrier dotting under the sticks unopposed. It was a sickening blow just before the interval but Hackney knew their chances would come.

Hackney began the second half with renewed vigour. Winning back their own restart, they laid siege to the Nigerians try line. A dominant scrum gave fly-half Al O’ Hara the platform to pull the strings and found inside-centre Tommy Gardner who took a short cut through his opposite man to open Hackney’s accounts. The Griffins started to find a toehold in the muck and mire and just five minutes later they were 10-7 up thanks to the boot of Askham. 

With more mongrel than a post-Christmas Battersea dog home the hosts started to exert more control over the game. Camped in the Nigerian's half, O’ Hara took the ball to the line only to be met by the swinging arm of the Nigerian’s captain, fresh from a training course at the Dylan Hartley School of Temperament. O’ Hara recovered from the knock but concussion like symptoms saw him helped out of Mascara Bar later on that evening.

The referee missed the incident but Hackney made precious yards from the ensuing scrum as the tight-five had their opposite numbers on roller skates. Another bullocking break from Gardner put his team on the front foot and O’ Hara maneuvered through the scrambling defence for his side’s second try. The cloying pitch meant the conversion was always going to struggle and fell someway short, leaving Hackney 15-7 to the good.

Nigerians attempted to muscle their way back into the game with one out runners but were more like a team of wind-up mice, trundling forward in a straight line until they hit another object. Their fly-half eventually touched the ball at around the 70th minute mark and showed how he was the complete 10, right down to the knack for overthinking the game. A chip and chase about 20 metres too far was gathered by Hackney only to be turned over, Nigerians finding themselves in the Hackney 22 for the first time that half. A carbon copy pick and go around the edge of the ruck saw them pick up a second try but the die had already been cast.

From the restart the visitors re-gathered and attempted to work their way up the field. The pressure was cranked by big carries, but after their previous duke with Belsize, Hackney were well-versed in this kind of trench warfare and the longer the set of phases went on the stronger Hackney looked in the tight exchange. Nigerians hard work was to be undone when their fly-half hung up a highball so pointless you began to wonder whether he was sponsored by the Garryowen tourist board. The chasing winger knocked on under pressure bringing game to a close.

 

Night night no biscuit.