It was a glorious, warm February day at Spring Hill. As we warmed up opposite Hayes, the size difference between the two teams was apparent. The Gogs discussed a plan; don’t start in the usual poor manner, keep the ball in hand and try to tire the larger opposition. This… didn't quite go to plan at first. A combination of Hayes making the most of their forwards size, some quality kicking from their lively ten and atrocious defensive organisation from Hackney meant that we were pinned back for most of the first half. Poor defensive drifting, a missed tackle from your correspondent and Chris Reay not realising he was stood on the try line lead to the opening score.Clever kicking by Hayes resulted in two separate five metre scrums for Hayes, which on both occasions their substantially bigger pack trundled over for a pushover try. In between these, their ten played a speculative kick through which was watched over the dead ball line by Arran Ferguson in a relaxed manner. Except, it wasn't, was it Arran? Seeing their winger scamper and get his hand on the ball to claim a speculative try summed up the languid, half-arsed approach the whole Hackney team was applying in the first half.


There were moments of good Hackney play in the first half, working their way up field with nice hands and some sensible kicking. On three separate occasions, Hayes conceded turnover penalties around 20m* out. Captain Hanton put all three away.


*[Editor's note] one was at least 45m out [note ends]


So, half time 24-9. It's fair to say that Hackney had put in one of their worst forty minutes of the season, seemingly completely disinterested. These match reports are generally meant to be 50% rugby, 40% comedy and 10% bizarre in-jokes that only 3 players ever understand, but I am struggling to take anything humorous from the first half performance whatsoever. However, there was a glimmer of hope at half time - we knew that their pack would start to tire and they were on a collective last warning for turnover penalties.


And yet… And yet Hackney let Hayes walk all over them for the next twenty minutes. Three more Hayes tries came, with no reply. 39-9 with 25 minutes to go.


By this point, the match was starting to take its toll on both teams. Hayes had lost a good number of their pack. Hackney had had to constantly reshuffle too - Chris Reay ruining his ankle within two minutes (fingers crossed for next Saturday though Chris…), Shu actually managing to beat him by getting injured in the warmup, Arran had to spend forty minutes on the sideline recovering. Most concerningly, the entire match had to stop for five minutes so Kieran Murray could put a plaster on his ankle.


I'm not sure if getting a few fresh legs on helped things, but something changed… Out of nowhere the game plan we had discussed actually came to fruition. The forwards put down a solid platform, with Tom Gluckstein and Joe Fennell particularly carrying like demons possessed. The entire pack starting carrying out the dirty work required, allowing Tom Hanks and Matt Hanton to dictate play. A fresh James Simpson caused carnage in the midfield, barrelling his way through player after player in a way that definitely didn't scream 'long term brain injury' to anyone who was watching. This, along with Hayes receiving a yellow for repeated infractions, opened up the space that allowed the backline space to make things happen. A cheeky chip over the top by Hanton was overrun by both Joe Fennell and the opposition winger, allowing yours truly to scoop the ball up and, from ten minutes, do my best to make scoring a walk in as difficult as possible. 39-14 and Hackney had finally arrived.


A blitz then began, with players like Franck, Mike and Darren rolling back the years, with the latter making an out of character 30m break. Who knew that this forward possessed pace!? I mean, he had to immediately sub himself off, but good on you Darren. The backs continuously showed good hands and pace, leading to two quickfire tries from Kieran Murray, hitting nice gaps in the defence.


Hayes found themselves down to 14 once more with around 10 minutes to go, again for repeated infractions at the breakdown. Hackney’s tails were up and an improbable victory was suddenly within reaching distance. Tom Gluckstein followed up a half break with a delightful offload to a now-not-injured Arran Ferguson, who scampered to the corner to dot the ball down. 39-35, last play, Hackney dominating.


And yet, such is life, sadly there is no fairytale ending. A scrappy last few minutes lead to a Hayes turnover, who punted the ball out with glee. However, I think it’s fair to say that the last 20 minutes of the match was the best rugby the Gogs have played all season. A tasty return trip to Hayes follows next week.


P.S. For those disappointed to not see the usual player ratings, I don’t even know where to start (0/10 for the first sixty for every player, 10/10 for the final 20?!).


P.P.S If Tom Davies gets Gareth Anscombe’s face tattoo’d on his scrote, then I will retrospectively upload player ratings. Don’t say I didn’t warn you there would be in-jokes.