Malfunctioning dropped pins aside, Hackney found themselves in the leafy surrounds of Hampstead Heath (extension) without incident. Hackney’s strongest squad of 2019 looked refreshed and organised throughout the warm up, that was right up until its final act - Fraser wishing old man Chamberlain’s head a happy new year with his knee, forcing Hackney’s elder statesmen to sit out the first 40.

Hampstead kicked the game off and were soon battering Hackney’s 22 metre line with their carriers racking up good numbers on each phase, the outside centre proving particularly hard to contain. However, contain they did, and before too long a tasty trademark hit from no.8 Strong forced a knock on and Hackney were able to start their advance up the field.

Once into Hampstead’s territory, Hackney’s structure and organisation began to pay dividends with captain Fresh and vice captain Nonsense able to mix things up with plays around the fringes, and then some rangy carries in the midfield, invariably led by the indefatigable Ben Suddell and the very fatigable Fraser Tait. One such Tait-Suddell bust left Hackney only 5 yards short of the line, and with the defence scattered, nonsense Wilkinson was able to dart over for Hackney’s first 5 pointer, soon to be made 7 by Fresh’s recently dusted off kicking boots.

Unable to clear their lines from the subsequent kick off, Hackney were soon penned into their 22. Again, Hampstead’s runners were hitting some good lines and causing damage, notably from their no. 8 and the right winger. Eventually their persistence paid off, forcing a penalty from a high tackle right in front of the sticks. 7-3. A loose kick off and chase meant Hackney were soon back in their 22 and defending hard. Some good resistance eventually coming undone as the ref awarded a penalty try after one too many scrum offences.

The next passage of this see-saw half, somehow resulted in Captain Fresh’s ear becoming slightly less attached to his head than it ought to be. One can only assume that, fearful of a coach Steve shellacking at halftime, or worse - a Laurence Mills anecdote, our poor leader decided to rip it off himself.

With skip off the pitch, and the backline re-arranged, Hackney stabbed a kick through, and a committed chase meant that the retreating Hampstead back three were forced to concede a penalty and yellow card in their attempt to secure the ball. With skipper off receiving treatment, Mills (the fresh faced and talented one) stepped up to guide the ball between the sticks, and Hackney were level. Soon after, more pressure from Hackney and more confusion in the Hampstead back field, allowed the Party Walrus to scoop up a loose ball and groove over from 20 metres out.

The Hampstead lineout was beginning to creak after unrelenting pressure from Legg & co, and from one such steal, Hackney claimed possession and hit the ball up in the midfield. Hearing the call for the switch back play, Wilkinson shipped the ball to the blindside to find, stood at first receiver, the unlikely figure of TfL’s premier loosehead, Dave Lewis. With vocal support from the sidelines ringing in his ears, Dave minded the gap in the Hampstead defence very nicely indeed and set off faster than the Victoria line, picking the ball up in Warren Street (no doubt Seven Sisters after a couple of beers), making it all the way to Stockwell before offloading to Yinka to dot down in Brixton. Choo bloody choo all the way to half time.

Half time: Hampstead 10 - Hackney 22

The second 40 started quickly with old man Chamberlain - now off the bench and fired up by being twice referred to as ‘old man Chamberlain’ in a match report that he hadn’t yet read - tearing into Hampstead with a 30 metre bust. Some further strong carries by Jed, Guassardo and Noble setting the platform for Ludo to dink a kick through for the onrushing Yinka, who gathered and stepped infield. From the resulting ruck, Ollie Jenner now standing at 10 (presumably unaware that his captain was back on the field?) performed his best matador impression to draw 3 defenders before releasing Mills (the grizzled and deadlifty one) through the hole to score. Fresh, back on tee duties, added the extras.

Ludo continued to showcase his skills in the very next passage of play, fielding the ball at full back and launching a pinpoint 30 metre pass to the ever-impressive Josh Wald out wide on the half way line. With plenty left to do, the centre pinned his ears back and weaved his way through would-be tacklers to score a beautiful broken field try under the posts.

26 points to the good, Hackney’s concentration lapsed, and Chamberlain, perhaps struggling with his head knock, temporarily forgot the rules and picked up the ball from the side of a ruck to earn himself a yellow. Momentum shifted, and Hampstead were able to assert themselves on the scoreboard, scoring two tries, converting one and adding a penalty to bring themselves back within 7 points. Fortunately, this scare was enough to spur a late Hackney resurgence, the last 5 minutes of the game spent with Hackney hammering on the Hampstead line, before Matt Strong was able to burrow over for a well earned try.

The final whistle blew, prompting jubilation from the visitors. Our amiable but unconventional hosts duly tunnelled us off the pitch in the direction away from the changing rooms, which was rather discombobulating for 33% of the Hackney squad who at some point throughout the afternoon needed attention for head injuries.

Full time: Hampstead 29 - Hackney 43

Backs of the Match: Awarded jointly to the returning duo of Jenner and Wald. Josh always a threat with ball in hand, whilst Ollie did such a good job at 10 during Joe’s aural absence, that the skip brought himself back on to play at 12 (the position for people who want to play 10 but don’t have the requisite skill set).

Man of the Match: Dave Lewis - Mainly for ‘that’ break, but with some solid work on both sides of the scrum and some important tackles thrown in for good measure.