HENLEY HAWKS continued their 100 per cent start to the season with a comfortable victory at Southend on Saturday, running in nine tries in the process.
The visitors started slowly as Southend ran at them hard and breached the defence in midfield on more than one occasion before left wing Dan Cleare burst through the centre to score a converted try between the posts to give the home side a 7-3 lead after Comben had kicked a penalty from the Hawks’ first visit to the Southend 22.
The Hawks hit back with useful possession as Ali James was able to put Liam O’Neill down the touch line. Although grounded into touch Southend lost control of a resultant ruck and the Hawks’ ever alert scrum half Jack Shaylor snapped up a loose ball to run over unopposed.
With a 10-7 lead the Hawks were now better organised with forwards led by Matt Payne gaining control in most aspects of their game, except line outs, and they were soon able to get their speedy backs moving.
It was Payne who put Martin Nutt in for his debut try for Henley after Comben finished off another attack by side-stepping his way to score under the posts to add seven to his mounting points total.
Tom Allen, playing in the centre for the first time for several months, started to get into the action and he put O’Neill away to score to make the half-time lead 29-7. It could well have been more had the winger not been stopped after a 40 metre run having been set up by Payne.
In the second half Comben scored the individual try of the match by twisting and turning in a run of 45 metres in which he sent the home defence scurrying in different directions before touching down behind the posts. He converted this and then shortly afterwards was rested.
Southend enjoyed their best period of the game when they established themselves in the Hawks 22 and proceeded to try and break the visitors’ defence in a spell of seven phases. It was then that the Hawks’ forwards, who had been the author of the Hawks’ possession especially through solid scrummaging and rucking, showed how well organised they were in defence.
When they drove upfield after this siege their reward was a slice of luck as their crooked throw from the line out set up another swift counter-attack which Nutt joined from fullback. With neat foot work he outpaced the covering defence to score under the posts. This, and the last four tries of the game, were converted by O’Neill who took over kicking duties in the absence if Comben.
The last three tries, which came at regular intervals, emphasised the contribution of the back row. Robbie Stapley, who put in a sterling performance at number eight, picked up near the posts when the home pack was wrecked in a set scrrum and replacement for Matt Payne, Will Woodward was on hand to finish off a break by Nutt.
This came after an impressive chase of a loose ball from a hack ahead by the deceptively quick number seven Ryan Newman which gave Richard Briggs the chance to show his finishing skills despite a head injury suffered from an illegal tackle in the first half.
The resounding victory extended the Hawks’ lead at the top of the table to four points.
Henley Hawks: 15 Martin Nutt, 14 Liam O’Neill, 13 Ali James, 12 Tom Allen , 11 Richard Briggs (Andre 30-40 mins), 10 James Comben (Andre 57 mins), 9 Jack Shaylor, 1 Dai Maddocks (Milford Scott 60 mins), 2 Ant Brennan (Clarke 50 mins), 3 Jim Hadfield, 4 Liam Dwyer (Downing 60 mins), 5 Andy Cannoak, 6 Matt Payne (Woodward 60 mins), 7 Ryan Newman, 8 Robbie Stapley.