Having endured a fairly poor first half of the season (played 10, lost 9), the festive break offered the Gogs some respite and an opportunity to reset, take stock, and start the new year in a positive fashion.

 

Captain Matt Hanton, taking a break from a busy Christmas bulking schedule upon reviewing the January fixtures and spotting that the first opponents at Spring Hill were top of the league Harlequins Amateurs, noted to himself that the fixture gods were not being kind to Hackney. Quins, who had made the move from Herts/Middlesex 2 last season in order to ‘rebuild’, have, frankly, been having an excellent season in the relative comfort of Middlesex Merit Table 3. They also hammered us in October. But at least it wasn’t as cold as the last game, so it could have been worse.

 

When the squads were released on Thursday evening, the Gogs had (*gasp*) a full front row and (*second gasp*) a potential, if reluctant, front row replacement. By Friday evening, the team had neither of these luxuries as the Gargoyles were afflicted by ill-timed maladies of varying natures.


Hasty ring-rounds secured a squad of 18 for the day, and after a typically excellent and focused Gogs-esque warm-up (much of which was spent trying to get the container open or help the 1s find the light switches for their changing room) the team started at a roaring pace. Unfortunately that team was Quins, whose squad of 40 or so was clearly affronted at having to travel all the way to East London to do their exercise for the day, and took out their anger on the Gogs’ tryline, and on occasion the Gogs themselves.


Yes, dear reader, there was, for reasons unknown, some niggle in this game. Some shenanigans. Some fun and games. Despite Quins leading comfortably from early in the match there were handbags manbags (this is East London after all) at many a breakdown, and toys exiting prams so quickly that the game could have been played in Walthamstow Village. After one such disagreement a Harlequin pointedly and helpfully reminded his team-mates that ‘this is why they’re bottom of the league’, on-field chat which would have been meat and drink to the sadly-and-hopefully-only-temporarily-departed Dan Worth. All of this, shockingly, failed to enhance a spectacle that would later generously be described as ‘stop-start’ by both captains.


While the Gogs coped reasonably well at the breakdown, they struggled at times to deal with Quins’ aggression in the carry despite the best efforts of the back row, with Ben Graham and Dave Huxley leading the way. However, once this first line of resistance was broken, Quins recycled in numbers and tries were shipped a little too easily through and around the backline. The team did, however, have the better of the last 10 minutes of the first half and finally got on the scoreboard as Charlie Parker latched onto a Hanton chip through that was variously described as ‘Beauden-esque’ or ‘a lucky bounce’ depending on who you asked.


A typically upbeat half time chat followed (no, really, it was) and the Gogs returned with intent. Which was quickly undone by shipping a soft try. The second half is a bit of a blur to your correspondent, but there was certainly some excellent (but, second team scouts, not too excellent) carrying from James Abbot, Charlie Parker and Phil Leonard on debut, with the Gogs’ back 3 bringing some welcome pace to counteract the more…deliberate nature of the inside backs. Also the forwards perfectly executed that rarest of Gogs sights – a rolling maul – that surprised themselves almost as much as the opposition.


The game’s latter stages weren’t overly pretty for Hackney as further scores were conceded to the, in fairness, pretty handy, Quins backline (a fair few Gogs were stepped by their 12 on a fair few occasions) and a number of players came in for some rough treatment by a Quins bench eager to make their mark on the game. However, I can’t fault the effort from the whole squad, many of whom played out of position, or were coming back from injury, or were making guest appearances from abroad, or played on despite crippling post-hour-mark-calf-cramp. We move onward to the next match against Thamesians – the second half of the season starts here.


Player ratings:

 

1)     Dave Bates: The man, the myth, the legend, the only Gog who hates uncontested scrums. Hope we can give him a belated Christmas present next week (7/10)

2)     Alex ‘The Baron’ Higgs: Heroic effort by Mr Higgs in defying physios orders to anchor the uncontested scrum. Great to have him back. (7)

3)     Cian Griffin-Murphy: Excellent port game as always, played an unexpected 80 mins, and took the kit for the second time this season. Will make someone a great husband one day. (8)

4)     Mat Cole: Another excellent effort from the second best rugby player in the Cole family. Bit of snarl this week, I like. (8)

5)     Finn Apps: Got the treatment from the Quins back row, brave beyond his years, not least when delivering the news of Dexter’s Saturday morning cold. (7)

6)     Spencer Elliot: Simply the worst pair of post-match trousers I’ve ever seen. Decent on-field though and arrows improving by the match. (8)

7)     Ben Graham: Tackle count in the 20s at least, aided by the centres delegating the majority of their defensive work for the day. A pest, in a good way. (9)

8)     Dave Huxley: Carried well as always and put in a defensive shift too. Also fairly punctual to the meet (until an emergency trip to Sports Direct beckoned). An excellent day’s work (9)

9)     Kieran Murray: Started at 9 [INSERT COMPARISON SASS TO SHOREY AND FIELDEN HERE] and also played 12, 13 and 7 during yet another solid shift from the Gogs’ Mr Versatile. Surely only a matter of time before adding the 2 shirt to that collection. (8)

10)  Chris Reay: (7)

11)  Charlie Parker: Anotherformer colt rescued from the clutches of higher education to come back into the Gogs’ fold. Played out of position without complaint, and did so rather well. (8)

12)  Matt Hanton: 100% off the tee, about 25% in the tackle, successfully lost and then won back the ref in the space of 20 minutes. Not much else to note. (6)

13)  Tom Davis: Not as good at rugby as his brothers Charlie or James, but a sound addition to the Hackney Davis brotherhood. Excited to see what typos he spots in this week's report. Needs to get a roller on those calves, stat (6.9)

14)  James Abbot: House hunting commitments kept James out of the 2s, and this clearly below-par performance should keep him with the Gogs for a few more weeks at least, in this observer’s opinion. (-9)

15)  Phil Leonard: Also definitely not any good. May progress after a few games in the 3s, we’ll keep you posted. (-9)

16)  Jack Kedge: Rightly pointed out he was the loudest guy on the field despite not being on the field. Then proceeded to be the loudest man on the field when on the field. Great to have him on loan from the Netherlands for a few weeks, but then he always did love a tour (7)

17)  Tom Hopper: Second game for the Gogs and about his 4th game ever, unfathomably brave as a result of perhaps not having played enough rugby to be worried about it yet (7)

18)  Nima Akbari: A just-in-time arrival that was so good it will be of interest to post-Brexit British industry. Nima reminded veteran Gogs of the good old days of having a marauding, lanky student second row, due not only to the nature of his play, but also due to the reason for his late arrival (7)