An ugly win, on an ugly day, in an ugly town.


Ahh, 6 Nations opening weekend. The realm of the rugby players’ delight, their very joie de vivre. The first rays of sunshine, spring bulbs sprouting, an annual excitement. Unfortunately this would have to wait for the Griffins who spent the day in Hemel Hempstead, a strange hinterland where life begins and ends. Trips to the Hertfordshire countryside have been few and far between this season, with London 2NW having a much more metropolitan feel to it. There would, at least, have been a sense of familiarity for the travelling men. The architecture, or lack of it, the bleak shopping centre, grey office blocks, the locals. Now I wouldn't want to sound churlish by suggesting that Hemel is the ugliest town in Great Britain, I’ll leave that to the BBC.

The day went from bad to worse for the Griffins as Hemel’s first attack saw them score in the corner. A pick and go down the blindside of the scrum followed by slick hands made it look easy for the home side. 5 - 0 down, Hackney restarted up the hill. Hemel attempted to clear by both running and booting the ball but Hackney kept them pegged back with a superior kicking game. The Griffins eventually turned pressure into points as Joe Askham converted a penalty following an infringement at the breakdown by Hemel.

The game continued in a similar fashion with Hackney playing to the conditions and keeping Hemel in their own half. The rain and mud made handling difficult and Hemel sparked a counter attack following a Hackney knock on in the tackle. The nippy Hemel nine found himself with two options, prop Dave Lewis and space. He took the outside leaving Lewis flailing at him like a man herding cats and then shipped it to speedy winger Rio who danced across the sand to score in the same corner as their first try. 10 - 3 to Hemel.

Hackney made heavy weather of grinding away at gutsy Hemel team and it was altogether more fraught than they would have liked. A couple of chances went begging as Hackney’s kick chase put Hemel’s back three under pressure only to flounder at the last hurdle.

They did eventually cross for a try not long before half time. Al O’ Hara pulled the strings and put PJ Lloyd through a gap in the midfield. The covering defence attempted to stop Lloyd 5 metres out but unfortunately for them, the bus was full.

It was more of the same in the second half with Hackney controlling the game and Hemel living off scraps. Though Hackney seemed to have control of the contest for long stretches, lapses in defence meant they struggled to shake off their opponents. A counter attack from Hemel found space down the left flank where would go on to score their third try, this time converted.

Hackney regrouped and continued to pressurise the Hemel defence. They went through the phases again, making the hard yards en route to the Hemel try line. The Hackney forwards continually offered themselves for carries, and everyone took turns at clearing out. Tait, at the apex of a storming pack effort, would be the one to claim the rewards as he broke the tackle before just about reaching over the try line underneath the posts.

The game started to get a little niggly and Sean Conner found himself in the middle of a heated debate for a second week running (the man would start a fight in a Tibetan monastery). Conner found an outlet for his frustrations not long after. A plumb kick from O’ Hara bounced in front of the onrushing Lloyd who lobbed the fullback with his first touch and threaded the ball through with his second with Connor pouncing just before it went dead. For the first time in the game Hackney lead, 22 – 17.

Hackney's final quarter was characterised by efficiency and discipline as they looked to protect their lead. Time and time again the Hackney defensive line was ready and waiting for the Hemel attack, who to their credit showed spirit and obduracy, even if they looked limited. They were perhaps made to look so by the degree to which Hackney controlled and monopolised territory. The Griffins did just about enough to hold on for a precious victory on the road.

A terrible game, but brilliant win, it has been comebacks not setbacks that has defined this Hackney team.