Friday, 24 November 2017

Last-gasp penalty miss gifts Hawks third successive win

HENLEY HAWKS continued their winning streak at Clifton but, just as with the previous week against Barnes, the result hung in the balance until the final kick of the game.

Played in windy conditions it was a struggle between two sides who were prone to error throughout which led to scores in a match which produced nine tries. This was, then, an exciting game for spectators to watch if not one to arouse admiration as far as skill was concerned.

The Hawks had the advantage of a brisk wind at the start and with this most of the first half was played in the Clifton end.

However the Hawks were slow to get into their stride and conceded two tries in the first 30 minutes. The first came after just 10 minutes and this came from a kick to five metres in the corner from a penalty which resulted in a drive over the Hawks line which Henry Harper was able to touch down with support from his supporting pack. This was not converted in the difficult kicking conditions.

Although the Hawks responded by taking the game into the Clifton half they could not use the wind to put pressure on. The Hawks fell further behind when Clifton sent their backs on a handling move from halfway led by skipper Dan Wells. They drove into the Hawks 22 where fragile tackling allowed supporting flanker Max Woodward to cross for a try near the posts.

It was then the Hawks got on the scoreboard when left wing Sam Portland dislodge the ball in a tackle close to the halfway line. He immediately picked up the loose ball and using his pace strode away from a non-existent defence to cross halfway from touch. This try, converted by fly-half Joe Butler, put the Hawks just three points in arrears.

But it wasn’t until Barnes kicked a penalty that the visitors then started to take the game to Clifton and the pack began to move forward using their favourite mode of attack — the driving maul.

Flanker Tom Hall was able to work his way through for a try after 34 minutes and this was followed by a scavenging Liam O’Neill who beat the Clifton defence to a touchdown, putting the Hawks 19-13 ahead at half-time.

The second half started with a comedy of kicking errors with neither side being able to put the ball into touch except on the full outside their 22 areas. The Hawks eventually controlled the capricious wind well enough to again put an attack in with the ball having been kicked over the Clifton try line and O’Neill again scrambling to good effect to beat Clifton to a touchdown. The Hawks were now 24-15 in the lead, Barnes having reduced their lead with a penalty after 45 minutes.

In a relatively rare attack Clifton put pressure on the Hawks in a line-out and prop Alex Giltrow was able to barge his way through for another unconverted try with the last quarter of the game remaining.

With 20 minutest to go the game was still open for either side to win with the score at 24-20 to the Hawks. Hereabouts the game meandered on losing momentum, in part because of referee David Conway’s extraordinarly generous interpretation of the advantage law which served to slow the game down.

However, the match appeared to be going the Hawks’ way when again Portland, with a decisive elusive running burst, broke through close to touch on the left to touch down but Butler failed to convert. The Hawks were now 29-20 in the lead with 10 minutes to go and they seemed to be easing to an important victory.

However, Clifton now counter-attacked with a powerful burst by replacement Will Pomphrey from their 22 to put centre Jack Newey over for a try, but this was not converted, leaving the Hawks just 29-27 in front. They were still under pressure with referee Conway still not blowing the final whistle.

The last moments of the game came with Newey being asked to kick a penalty from 35 metres, halfway to touch, to win the game. Only seven days before, the Hawks faced defeat against Barnes at Dry Leas but a similar kick by George Jackson won that game for the Hawks.

This time, to their relief, Newey failed to convert and missed the chance to win the match. The Hawks came away from the game reflecting on their good fortune when Giltrow’s try was not converted. From in front of the posts Barnes’ kick crashed into an upright — C’est la vie!

Henley Hawks: 15 Liam O’Neill, 14 Sam Portland, 13 Xavier Andre, 12 Connor Hayhow (Harry Burn, 30 mins), 11 Simon Perry, 10 Joe Butler, 9 George Jackson, 1 Dave Manning, 2 Stuart Philpott (Tom Emery, 61 mins), 3 Ziana Montout-Alexis, 4 Dave Clements (David Hyde, 68 mins), 5 Jake Albon, 6 Tom Hall (Tommy Haynes, 76 mins), 7 Rob Bell, 8 David Hyde (Scott White, 30 mins).

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