Last weekend was the fixture we’ve all been waiting for, the one that makes all those hours of training, the malcolms, the 1200 metres, and the burpees all worth it. The biggest fixture in the Middlesex Merit 3 calendar, the East London Derby: Hackney vs. Old Street.

 

Prior to the game, your Gogs were enjoying an uncharacteristically positive season seemingly scoring at will and actually starting games well. In fact one of the few stains on our copy books was losing away to Old Street in preseason. What more motivation could we possibly need? The main issue we’ve had in the Gogs this year has less been commitment but the fact that players have had a nasty habit of getting married.

 

The day got off to a typically inauspicious start with no fewer than 8 starters texting me that they would be late. This included eventual DOTD, Hugh Price (more on that to follow), who had the kit and the balls. A shorter warm up it was to be.

 

But lo and behold it was a pretty good warm up. The line out was slick and a brand new back line who effectively met in the car park had already got up to speed. The only major stall to our warm up was the ref’s 10 (TEN) MINUTE briefing on all things he wouldn’t tolerate on the pitch.

 

The team gathered for the huddle and the message was clear - it’s raining sideways and we can beat Old Street playing a simplified game. No chucking it about. With 10 minutes played and very little ball thus far Hackney had it out wide deep in Old Street’s half with a 3 man over lap. Simple hands will do. Instead new inside centre, Ed Wander, backed himself and straightened up. A decent covering tackle and some sloppy hands meant we had coughed up our first good chance. This would become a theme of the day.

 

So too would a rocky relationship with the ref. As stated earlier, the warning signs were there and the ref had made it ABUNDANTLY clear that he would not tolerate any nonsense. In a five minute spell 20 minutes in a truly baffling sequence of events took place. Old Street had a lineout on the edge of the Hackney 22, the Old Street hooker’s throw was wayward (as it was all day) and Hackney won a scrum. Impressively, Hackney’s diminutive scrum held its own and despite some pushbacks won all their own ball. Clean(ish) ball gave the backs a platform to clear our lines and deliver against the safety first game plan agreed pre-game. Instead, Price earned himself a free pint by throwing a forward 4 man miss pass that put the pressure right back on the Gogs. This was immediately followed by phases of hard nosed defending and aggressive tackles eventually resulting in a penalty for the Gogs. Now was the time for composure and clear heads. Adam Faulker took this opportunity to go for his opposite number and the penalty was reversed and a polite word with the ref meant we were marched back to our own try line. This prompted to the admittedly excellent on the day Number 8 to ask “why the f*** is everyone getting on my back?”

 

But one of the key themes from this game was Old Street’s profligacy and Hackney’s outstanding defence and again they were kept at bay.

 

The game’s only two scores came close to the end of the first half. The first try, I will confess that I missed. I’ve been told the ball came out the back of the scrum and was finished delightfully by Laurence Jones after a flowing backs move.

 

The second try, however, I did actually see and it was a thing of absolute beauty. It took 35 minutes for the pre-match team talk to finally sink in. The ball was much too wet for us to play flowing, high octane rugby. And it wasn’t necessary either. We had the players to grind them down and strength to patiently work our way up the pitch. And that’s exactly what we did. Thirty to Forty phases of jams and drills have bought the Gogs to the Old Street try line and now was the time for patience. Until the mismatch we were all waiting for - Harvey Pym vs. their Winger, one metre out. There could only be one winner. 10-0 at Halftime and the wind was very much in Hackney’s sails.

 

The second half was very forgettable with two only moments of note. The first was Old Street bringing on the ‘Danger Man’, a nippy winger who was, in all fairness, mustard. The Danger Man came on chased down the kick off and drove yours truly back 10 meters. A moment later he was under a high ball and beat three men with a delightful carry. However, that was his afternoon as he limped off claiming an ankle injury. His replacement? Of course a player who claimed he was about to steam roller the entire team. He was subbed 10 minutes later.