HENLEY HAWKS made a good start to the season with a comfortable win, in terms of scoring, over a Shelford side who offered a stubborn defence.
The visitors defence eventually overwhelmed as the Hawks ran in six tries all of which came from their speedy backs.
The game featured a hat-trick by right wing 18-year-old Liam O’Neill on his league debut for the Hawks. He made the most of opportunities created by the back play of the Hawks and came close to scoring on two further occasions using his exceptional pace to exploit openings.
The Hawks spent the first five minutes of the game in the Shelford 22 metre area but could not break clear of the determined tackling of the visitors when centres Ali James and Danny Wells made half-breaks. It was left to fly-half James Comben to open the scoring with a penalty close to the posts.
The same pattern of play continued with the Hawks losing control of possession when developing attacks. After a further eight minutes the Hawks broke the mould when scrum half Jack Shaylor made a 35-metre break leading to good handling by the backs which O’Neill joined in down the left to split the visitors’ centres to touch down his first try.
The Hawks were denied useful possession and were penalised on five occasions in kickable positions. Shelford kicker centre Steve Smith was off target with his first two attempts, one hitting an upright, before he made the score 8-3 with his third. Soon afterwards Smith reduced the score to 8-6 with a second successful penalty kick.
The Hawks made several forays into the visitors’ 22 but it was Shaylor again who opened the door when he quickly tapped a penalty which caught the Shelford defence by surprise and the ball was worked down the left where Comben sold a dummy to touch down a try he could not convert.
It was Shaylor again who stole away from a scrum when the Hawks shunned an attempt at a penalty and this put in Tom Allen, up from full back, for the Hawks’ third try. This made the score 20-6 at half-time.
The start of the second half saw the heavy Shelford pack in the ascendency. The Hawks dealt with this in the set scrums but apart from a variable performance by them in the line outs, it was in the rucks that they were able to deny the Hawks the quick possession that they needed to create good ball for their impressive backs as they made it difficult for the Hawks to clear out.
The visitors made their most incisive inroad into the Hawks half when their most dangerous runner, scrumhalf Phil Bullen-Brown, broke away on a 50 metre run from his own 22, before being caught by his opposite number Shaylor.
Smith continued to keep Shelford in the game with two further penalties to make the score 20-12.
The Hawks dealt with this situation by bringing Matt Payne and Hugo Milford-Scott off the bench, although O’Neill had been denied a score just prior to this when a good run was thwarted by a foot in touch.
The Hawks established a good attacking position after taking a Shelford line out ball 10 metres out. Having failed to make the try line in three phases, Shaylor used his pace to touch down near the posts for Comben to add the conversion to make the score 27-12.
Shelford were in no mood to surrender the game and pressing the Hawks defence they stretched it to an extent that the Hawks lost two players, Ant Brennan and Ryan Newman, in as many minutes to the sin bin.
With a scrum to follow on the Hawks 22 the situation for the home side looked dire. However, the six Hawks forwards drove Shelford off their own ball to such an extent that they gained possession and then proceeded to run the ball deep into the visitors’ half where O’Neill, put in possession again, outstripped the defence to score.
Shelford made the most of their superior number to create a try for lock Ed Mills under the posts which with Smith’s conversion made the score 32-19. It appeared that Wells was going to score in the right-hand corner after another good handling movement when in the process of touching down the referee halted play to deal with a fracas in midfield which resulted in both Luke Beales of Shelford and Brennan being sent off for an early bath. There was still time for O’Neill to complete his hat-trick. Allen made one of his runs from the Hawks 22 and when he linked up with Richard Briggs on the left-hand touch, the replacement wing threw a long looping pass across field for O’Neill to gain possession. He was then able to run in his third try unopposed with a stroll behind the posts for Comben to make the final score 39-19.
Henley Hawks: 15 Tom Allen, 14 Liam O’Neill, 13 Ali James, 12 Danny Wells, 11 Xavier Andre (Richard Briggs, 58 mins), 10 James Comben, 9 Jack Shaylor, 1 Dai Maddocks (Hugo Milford Scott 52 mins), 2 Ant Brennan (Michael Clarke 58 mins), 3 Jim Hadfield, 4 Andy Downing, 5 Andy Cannock (Liam Dwyer 65 mins), 6 Will Woodward (Matt Payne 52 mins), 7 Ryan Newman, 8 Robbie Staply.