HENLEY HAWKS got their promotion campaign back on track with an 81-12 thrashing of Southend at Dry Leas on Saturday to move up to second place in National Division 2 South.
After finding it difficult to play their open brand of rugby in the run-up to Christmas, when they lost two out of three matches which knocked them off the top of the league for the first time this season, the Hawks opened the New Year finding their feet on the driest grounds since well before the December break.
They revelled in conditions which allowed them to use their pace to leave Southend reeling and in the process scored a dozen tries, all but one of which were scored by their backs whose handling was of the highest quality and the best they had shown this season.
The hosts started slowly and seemed to be showing the lethargy brought upon by Christmas festivities with Southend keeping possession and spending time in the Hawks’ 25 for the first 15 minutes.
However, when they sprang into action gaining useful possession for the first time, left wing Richard Briggs broke away in the Hawks’ 25 with a burst of speed which left Southend staggering as this attack continued for 70 metres and only faltered 10 metres short of the visitors’ line when a pass went astray. The Hawks had Southend reeling and they gave away a penalty in front of the posts which gave Danny Wells the opportunity to convert a penalty which was the start of a successful afternoon for the centre who was given kicking responsibilities in the absence of the injured regular place kicker James Comben.
In total Wells slotted home nine conversions out of 12 attempts, which with one try and a penalty gave him a match total of 26 points.
Once the Hawks had broken the ice with Xavier Andre showing determination to score the first of a quartet of tries, the Southend defence crumbled to such an extent they conceded four tries in 10 minutes.
A Robbie Stapley kick ahead when he burst from a maul on halfway was caught by him and then slipped to Martin Nutt. This was the prelude to some fine play in the loose by lock Josh McNally. Time and again he was able to burst through tackles and set up try-scoring opportunities by offloading the ball with discretion in his best display since joining the Hawks in the autumn.
Hawks’ skipper Tom Allen was also put into space to score his third of the season and with flanker Matt Payne breaking off a driving maul the Hawks were now leading 34-0.
The first time Southend got on the score sheet followed when aggressive running by centre Mike Stanley, in his own 25, enabled him to break the Hawks’ defence and follow this with a long kick ahead down the centre of the park which he pursued to beat the Hawks’ cover as it crossed their line.
Immediately after they almost took advantage of some dilatory Hawks play to deal with another attacking kick which they managed to scramble away to make the half-time score 34-5. The Hawks rested Stapley after half-time and his replacement Will Woodward made an immediate impact by bursting away 40 metres and this, with help from hooker Liam Dwyer, set up an attacking position for Andre to race away for his second try.
Andre was now in irresistible mood and completed his quadruple of tries in 13 minutes after half-time showing pace to outflank the visiting cover on two further occasions when they were without left wing Danny Cleare who was given a yellow card for foul play just before half-time.
Nevertheless, their centre Stanley did score a second try when he intercepted a Hawks pass to make the score 48-12 in the middle of this sequence. This was followed by the best handling movement of the game when the Hawks backs swept down field with a move involving seven players which covered 60 metres before Briggs was free to run in from 30 metres.
There followed a period of desultory play with no further scores for 13 minutes before the two scrum halves Hawks had used during the course of the games scored three tries between them.
First of all Luke Carter ran wide from a scrum and then in a slanting dart went under the posts. Jonah Holmes, who moved to the left wing to give Nutt a rest at half-time, used his pace to outstrip a tired Southend defence to touch down twice in two minutes.
Southend were not expected to win this game given their poor record this season but they went away with an aggregate score against them of 145-19 over the two matches played.
Henley Hawks: 15 Martin Nutt (Luke Carter, 40 mins), 14 Andre Xavier, 13 Neil Baggett (Liam O’Neill, 45 mins), 12 Danny Wells, 11 Richard Briggs, 10 Tom Allen, 9 Jonah Holmes, 1 Hugo Milford Scott (Jim Hadfield, 45 mins), 2 Liam Dwyer, 3 David Manning (Dai Maddocks, 45 mins), 4 Dave Clements, 5 Josh McNally, 6 Matt Payne, 7 Ryan Newman, 8 Rob Stapley (Will Woodward, 40 mins).