With regular captain Laurence Mills busy in New Zealand, sharing with his future in-laws a back catalogue of zingy anecdotes, it was left to NW2’s nicest man to captain the Hackney side on their trip to the Old Deer Park. Being ‘skipper’ was in many ways a busman’s holiday for the nautically inclined Ben Sudell, but true to form he didn’t complain and undertook the role with gusto, using a combination of SMS, gmail and smoke signals from his temporary base in Perivale to coordinate maneuvers.

Despite the absence of the regular captain and the recent slew of broken noses that has stretched playing resources, the 18 lucky Hackneymen selected for this prestigious fixture arrived in high spirits. The grounds, the surrounds and some of the faces were new - but, in a tactical masterstroke, Hackney had neglected to bring either a first aid kit or water bottles, reassuring the boys that this was just a normal Saturday like any other.

Warmed up and kitted out, Hackney made their way through the gathering hordes of Welsh exiles to the hallowed Old Deer Park turf. The whistle blew, and Hackney were immediately under pressure, playing into the wind, rain and hail. Welsh, with all the elements at their back, were able to keep Hackney pinned in the 22, and came away with two early tries. The rest of the half was a much more even-contest with the evergreen Ben Chamberlain and James Legg making huge contributions in both attack and defence, along with academy product and debutant Tom Addenbrook. Hackney threatened on several occasions but were unable to capitalise, and then, with half an eye on the clock, Hackney’s defence relented on the last play of the half, to leave them 19-0 down at the break. 

A rare lapse in hospitality from our otherwise impeccable hosts saw them turn the weather off at half time, and unburdened by the elements, Welsh picked up their bonus point try straight after the break. Determined to get a score, Hackney managed to respond brightly and some intelligent tactical kicking from Ludo and Felipe gave some much needed field position. With Watmore off the field, Thistlewaite stepped up and undertook the work of two northern centres, repeatedly getting over the gain line. 

A platform set and with Yinka’s pace and Jim’s burgeoning towel collection attracting Welsh interest to the left, Ludo looked up from the base of his ruck, stepped to the right and put in an inch perfect cross field kick to Ruairidh’s right wing, who rose like a well leavened dough, claimed the kick and finished in the corner. The jubilation cut short as the referee ruled that young Ruairidh was in front of the kicker. 

Not deterred, Hackney tore back into their hosts with some hefty carries from the big men Penn and Burton. For the second consecutive week, Hackney’s scrum was in the ascendancy enabling the visitors to pin Welsh into their own 22. Before too long, there was genuine reason to celebrate as Hackney managed some uncharacteristically slick hands down the blindside, culminating in a sumptuous tap-on pass from James Noble, releasing Yinka to tear through the remaining defenders and score in the corner. Mills kicked the conversion from out wide and Hackney were on the board.

Alas, Hackney were unable to add to this score and faded in the last 20 minutes, allowing Welsh to rack up a few more scores. Yinka’s efforts in defence warrant mention, successfully defending several 4 on 1 overlaps, unfortunately relenting only when Welsh were able to get a 5th unmarked attacker into his channel. An honourable mention also for James Legg who - buoyed no doubt by playing against his Welsh brethren - finished the game in his preferred wing/lock hybrid position and covered more ground than anyone all afternoon.

The game finished and Hackney were sung off the pitch by our gracious hosts, who also arranged for weather to be turned back on - a second hailstorm cutting short Morgan’s presumably excellent post-match conciliatory words.

Player Ratings

Dave Lewis - Scrummaged suspiciously well against his fellow countrymen. Eyeing a big money summer transfer? 3 out of 10

Tom Addenbrook - Beneficiary of Hackney’s youth policy. Came to do a job. Do a job he did. 8

James Noble - “Dad strength” 8

James Legg - Another suspiciously impressive performance from a Welsh man. 4

Ed Penn - Gets angry before the game, gets angry during the game. Much needed. 8

Ben Chamberlain - A tackle for each of his years. 8

Ben Sudell - A carry for each of Chamberlain’s tackles. 8

Tim Hansen - A tan appreciated even by the Welsh. 8

Ludo Bathgate - Managed to keep the referee onside despite repeatedly telling him to piss off. 8

Rich Mills - Kicked one from the sideline and said “what were you worried about?” 8

Yinka Busari - A well taken try, and cut down all attackers who were expertly shepherded into his channel. 8

James Thistlewaite - Smashes defences like ol’ bottles of whiskey. 8

Guy Watmore - (from previous week due to curtailed involvement) Did his first thing for the club in 8 years. Didn’t expense the Uber, barely mentions it. Future clubman of the year. 10 

Jim Miller - Assistant (to the) Regional Manager. 6

Filipe Gouveia - Kicked sensibly and looked svelte in black warm up top. 8

Jack Burton - Strong on both sides of the ball. And big (although it could’ve just been a really small pitch). 8

Julian Lloyd-Jones - Difficult to understand, even more difficult to play against. 8

Ruairidh Keeley - Scotland’s best moment of the 2020 Six Nations - cruelly denied by the referee. 8