HENLEY HAWKS find it hard to win at Polson Bridge and again lost on Saturday after leading 15-3 at half-time.
The game was a case of déjà vu for the Hawks who, just like last season, dominated the opening half but again shunned golden opportunities to kick penalties and yet failed to convert line-out possession into tries, not helped by two crooked throws from attacking positions.
The Hawks dominated the game in the first 40 minutes with powerful forward play led by Matt Payne in the back row well supported by locks Josh McNally and Dave Clements in particular. They took an early lead through a straightforward penalty close to the posts by Danny Wells who on the day scored all of the Hawks’ points.
The game did not flow due to the barrage of whistling by referee Jon Healy who awarded more than 25 penalties in the first half, the vast majority against Launceston for handling and diving on the ball in the rucks. However, the Hawks got sufficient of the ball to test the home defence through their swift backs.
Eventually, after quarter of an hour a strong burst by Wells took him within two metres of scoring although a better option may have been to off-load the ball to the unmarked Xavier Andre, the Hawks’ leading try scorer. Nevertheless, he did score a try a few minutes later when he backed up a breakaway by lock Josh McNally who stepped out of a tackle before off-loading to the eager centre.
Launceston were finding it difficult to take play outside their own half as the Hawks set them back with powerful driving mauling assisted by the reduction in the home pack following the dismissal to the sin bin for 10 minutes of number eight Josh Lord for being offside in a ruck, immediately followed a minute later by skipper Tom Rawlings.
The hosts suffered from this when Henley got good ball and with slick handling moved this to hooker Liam Dwyer who released Wells to score his second try out on the left which he converted to make the score 15-0.
Launceston were now under severe pressure as the Hawks pushed towards their line in a 10-minute surge. The only way that the Cornish All Blacks could keep them out was through illegal play in the rucks and mauls as they were already reduced to 13 men and this could have been 12 but the referee failed to notice a flanker coming in from the side as the Hawks were almost over the line.
On the cusp of half-time the All Blacks established an attacking position and opened their scoring with a penalty by fullback Kieron Lewitt, this the first of four which were vital to turning this game over in favour of the home side.
With a comfortable lead of 15-3 the Hawks looked set for a valuable away victory but started the second 40 minutes with a relaxed air of a side expecting to win. This happened at Clifton but then did not prove fatal to their cause.
From the restart kick by the All Blacks the Hawks failed to control the ball and immediately fell offside giving away a penalty. Dead-eye kicker Lewitt slotted over the penalty to make the score 15-6, a real bonus for a side still reduced to 13 men. This impulse given to the never-say-die attitude of the All Blacks made it difficult for the Hawks to assert the control they had had in the first half, not helped by fullback Martin Nutt being sent to the sin bin just before the break.
However, it was assistant referee Steve Harland who was to have an important influence on the outcome of the game. The assistant failed to advise the referee that there was a knock-on, close to his touch line, after a decisive break by Hawks’ scrum half Luke Carter stopped a pass to wing Xavier Andre 20 metres out with absolutely no defence between the winger and the try line. It was apparent that a penalty try should have been awarded. The assistant then advised the referee to give a yellow card to lock McNally, probably Hawks’ most influential forward, for a dangerous tackle. This was executed level with his hips and without throwing the Blacks’ scrum-half Richard Friend to the ground head first or in a dangerous manner.
With the loss of the lock the Hawks found it difficult to contain a rampant Launceston pack from a five-metre scrum resulting in Lord touching down and this with the conversion and a later penalty gave the All Black victory. This was despite the efforts towards the end of the game of Robbie Stapley to break through a Blacks defence who found it difficult to contain him.
Henley Hawks: 15 Martin Nutt, 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Neil Baggett (Liam O’Neill, 76 mins), 12 Danny Wells, 11 Richard Briggs, 10 Tom Allen, 9 Luke Carter, 1 Hugo Milford Scott (Dai Maddocks, 46 mins), 2 Liam Dwyer, 3 Dave Manning (Jim Hadfield, 64 mins), 4 Dave Clements (Will Woodward, 69 mins), 5 Josh McNally, 6 Matt Payne, 7 Ryan Newman (Dave Ashmore, 69 mins), 8 Robbie Stapley.