The Griffins closed out the 2017/2018 season on the road to Hammersmith and Fulham at a resplendent Hurlingham Park, a far cry from the Brexity outskirts of Hertfordshire that they are used to. The previous encounter between both sides had been well contested, where the last play was decisive and two points the difference. This game proved to be no different.

The East Londoners dominated the opening quarter, camped in the Hammers’ half. Their cause was assisted by a slight breeze, the sun at their backs and an opposition half-back pairing whose decision making had all the careful consideration of a game of Bop it! and who kicked with the accuracy of a chicken (sorry Clarkey). Time and time again, Hammers put the ball out on the full or attacked a well-defended blindside, gifting Hackney territory. The Griffins attempted to make good use of their advantage but couldn’t quite convert their chances, finding space out wide but continuously spurning overlaps as if Mike Brown had taken Wednesday’s skills session.

After much effort, Hackney finally did get on the scoreboard thanks to scrum-half Sam Wilkinson burrowing over from close range. A missed conversion left the score at 0 – 5, but not for long. The home side won a penalty almost straight from the restart and took a gift three points to leave the scores at 3 - 5.

As the half wore on Hackney struggled to click, lacking the structure and composure that they had grown into as the season progressed. Unforced errors, poor execution and being turned over at vital moments typified a laborious first 40.

The H&F set-piece started to gain the ascendency as Hackney were overpowered at the scrum and line-out. The hosts profited from this, taking a five-point lead into half-time courtesy of a converted try following a line-out close to the 5-metre line.

Some stern words were dished out at the break as Hackney had given themselves a lot of work to do, with the conditions no longer in their favour and in front of an increasingly raucous home crowd.

The first day of warm weather appeared to whip the local support into a frenzy as each proclaimed how the sunshine really reminded them of this one time on their gap yah. Dressed in candy cane trimmed blazers, adorned with badges for each time they chundered on tour, el bantz did flow as their 3rd and 4th teams offered the Hackney players advice on how to play the game. It was like 150 less funny versions of Jack Whitehall, if at all possible.

The typically humble men of Hackney were not to be distracted and got the first score of the half when winger Ultan Murphy kicked a penalty to leave the scores at 10 – 8.

Buoyed by an ever dominant set-piece, Hammers grew into the second half, bringing an intensity and ferocity to proceedings that Hackney struggled to match. The Griffins were forced to attack with phase play rather than set-piece possession but it was not paying dividends.

A breakaway try down the left wing and pushover try from a splintered scrum fell either side of a Jim Miller 5-pointer. The aspiring former fly-half Miller making up for his previous butchering of an overlap, his pass so forward it landed on Sunday.

A further three points, resulting from sustained pressure in the Hackney 22, gave the hosts a 25 – 13 lead with little over 10 minutes left. A win looked like a bridge too far but Hackney were given a glimmer of hope when the Hammers fly-half was yellow carded for a high tackle. The one-man advantage appeared to make little difference as H&F continued to heap on the pressure.

Then, against the run of play, the momentum suddenly shifted. A Mike Waithe strip handed Hackney back possession 5 metres from their own try line. Ball in hand was their only option as an exit strategy and they grew into the team that was expected from the outset: fast, strong, purposeful and clever. Carry after carry ate up the metres and the H&F defence faded badly as it was outmanoeuvred by a dramatic transformation, seemingly powerless against the swarming Hackney tide. Fraser Tait took the ball around the bend to score under the posts before Murphy’s dropkick conversion was hastily added. It was a stunning team effort but Hackney would now have to do it all over again with just 2 minutes remaining.

Matt Strong received the restart and got the ball rolling with a charging run. Hackney’s threat was all-consuming as each carry found a soft shoulder. Sometimes the only difference in being considered to have big brass balls or a moron is whether you’re successful or not. Had some of the offloads not stuck in the final minute Hackney may have rued their mistakes but that would have to wait. Dave Akkersdyke found himself on the receiving end of one said offload and showed some toe only to be hauled down just shy of the corner flag. Fitness was not an issue for his supporting team mates who secured and recycled the ball. Two phases later Sean Conner exploited a gap in the back peddling defence to touch down under the posts to deliver the 'hammer' blow. The Roy of the rover finish was topped off by Conner who, like the classless footballer he really is, repeatedly thrust his hips at an already silenced crowd. They had been outsmugged. Murphy potted the vital conversion to hand Hackney a two-point win, sending the Griffins into raptures. 

As if Hackney does not already have enough storied end of season moments in their history, there is now another to be remembered. They have, statistically, had bigger second-half comebacks but there have been none in which a team has undergone the extreme makeover which propelled Hackney to a Lazarus like revival, a game that defied description.

All in all a successful maiden foray into the London 2 NW league. A top half table finish with room for improvement will offer optimism for the Griffins next season but for now, they can rest. We would like to thank our support who have travelled far and wide to cheer us on and those who keep updated from further afield, our fans over at Hampstead RFC, the chaps at Mills’ sports law team, Mr. Strong, wee granny Dunlop, the list goes on. But for now…

I'll gently rise and I'll softly call

Good night and joy be with you all