HENLEY HAWKS’ promotion hopes were further enhanced as they picked up a bonus point in their win at Canterbury last Saturday to move up to second place in National Division 2 South with just seven matches remaining.
In picking up the five points the Hawks scored four tries in the first half and added a further in the second half.
Jonah Holmes opened the scoring for the Hawks after 13 minutes with a stunning try engineered through swift passing by the backs which put the winger in space just inside the Canterbury half. He used this with good effect to streak down the touchline with such pace that the home defence did not lay a hand on him. Holmes touched down between the touchline and goal posts for fly half Will Robinson to convert.
The Hawks were now full of running backed up by a mobile pack. They were ready to use the bruising running of lock Josh McNally throughout the game to sustain attacks but it was flanker Ryan Newman, returning after more than a month away with injury, who cleverly next unlocked the home defence. Newman pivoted to find Robinson who exploited the resultant gap to break through to feed number eight Robbie Stapley who went over for his 14th try of the season.
The back row of Stapley, Newman and Ben Ashmore were instrumental in attack and defence in keeping the Hawks on top. Canterbury lost their most effective forward and skipper Peter Kelly with an injury after 31 minutes although the home backs were not slow to develop their own attacks. They were met with a resolute Hawks defence which could not be breached.
The Hawks forwards, after a slightly hesitant start, were now beginning to show authority with effective mauling and driving. This got its reward when they drove the Canterbury pack back on their own put-in to such effect that they lost control of the ball and when this flew out of the scrum Hawks’ scrum half Luke Carter seized the opportunity to control it and cross over with the home defence absent.
Carter had a hand in getting the Hawks’ backs moving with his burgeoning halfback partnership with Robinson at almost every opportunity. It was no surprise when a movement down the right gave wing Liam O’Neill the chance to squeeze over for a try before he could be forced into touch but he was judged to have done so.
Nevertheless, the Hawks were to score just before half-time to give them a comfortable 24-0 lead. This came from a driving maul of more than 30 metres which they controlled to good effect by changing direction on four or five occasions before lock Dave Clements was forced over the line.
There was now the prospect of stretching the lead in the second half but not for the first time this season the rhythm of an impressive first half could not be found in the second.
However, after just over 10 minutes the Hawks made progress down the left featuring Holmes, after Martin Nutt had burst through to half way from fullback. The ball was recycled and the wing appeared in support down the right for him to register his second try of the afternoon running round behind the posts to give Robinson an easy conversion to make the score 31-0.
The Hawks then brought on all their unused replacements for the last quarter of the game but this could not produce another score despite the efforts of skipper Tom Allen who twisted and turned his way through the Canterbury defence.
With all their replacements used the Hawk were reduced to 14 men with the withdrawal of Newman with a slight leg problem. Canterbury took advantage of this imbalance to stretch the Hawks defence for the first time of the game and with men over created an overlap for Scott Browne to touch down an unconverted try as his kick attempt hit the woodwork. With this victory and the defeat of Redruth on their own ground by Hartpury, the Hawks moved up to second place in the table behind Worthing. They have a three-point margin over Redruth and Hartpury with a game in hand over the latter.
Although league leaders Worthing have a 12-point lead over the Hawks they have played two more games. The Hawks now have the best defensive record in the league in terms of points conceded and also have scored more points than any league rivals. With 922 already registered and seven games to play they should top 1,000 points in a league season for the first time.
Henley Hawks: 15 Martin Nutt, 14 Liam O’Neill (Adie Gillespie 65), 13 Tom Allen, 12 Danny Wells, 11 Jonah Holmes, 10 Will Robinson, 9 Luke Carter, 1 Hugo Milford Scott (Dai Maddocks, 58 mins), 2 Liam Dwyer, 3 Dave Manning (Jim Hadfield, 58), 4 Dave Clements (James Winterbottom, 58 mins), 5 Josh McNally (Will Woodward, 65 mins), 6 Ben Ashmore, 7 Ryan Newman, 8 Robbie Stapley.