NEWLY-PROMOTED Henley Hawks got their National Division 1 season off to a flying start with a resounding victory over visitors Tynedale at Dry Leas last Saturday, writes Noel Armstead.
The Hawks played with the same flair that earned them the Division 2 South title last season as they scored seven tries by six of their backs.
Henley started the game by keeping the ball in hand and put the visiting defence under such pressure that they conceded three penalties for off side approaches by their backs, the first of which was converted by James Comben after just three minutes.
The Hawks were overeager to score and their handling became inaccurate and, showing overconfidence, were shocked to concede a try after seven minutes when on half-way Tynedale fly-half Gavin Beasley spotted a gap on the blind side and gave centre Ben Frankland a scoring pass. The try was converted from under the posts to give the visitors a 7-3 lead.
Although Comben converted two penalties from 25 metres out to restore the Hawks’ lead at 9-7, this was short lived as Beasley did likewise with a goal from 30 metres when the Hawks were penalised for preventing release of the ball in a ruck.
The Hawks were failing to profit from their superiority outside the scrum and their forwards began to take charge of proceedings led by number eight Robbie Stapley, a last minute replacement for the injured Matt Payne. Showing no handicap from his own recent injury, he began to break tackles and was supported with aggressive running by Josh McNally, Will Woodward and Dave Clements.
This paid dividends after 20 minutes when the ball was fed to Xavier Andre on the right wing who, although held up 15 metres from the line, fed skipper Martin Nutt who was able to fling himself over for an unconverted try. The score of 14-10 became 17-10 when once again Tyndale were penalised and lock Andy Buist was given a yellow card.
The Hawks failed to take advantage of the numerical superiority until the 40th minute when some close passing just short of the Tynedale line bore its reward with a Comben side-step over the line to make the score 22-10 and take his personal tally to 17 points. Unfortunately Comben tweaked a hamstring in the process and could not resume in the second half.
Before the break Tynedale, now at full strength, pressed to score and in a ruck close to the Hawks’ line their number six Woodward illegally prevented the release of the ball and was sent to the sin bin. The visitors took advantage of this to force Buist over the line for a try converted by Beasley to make the half-time score 22-17.
The Hawks started the second half a man short and with a reconstituted back line in the absence of Comben but they quickly brushed aside such handicaps by scoring two tries in four minutes.
Tom Allen, at fly-half, put in a dancing run to weave through a bewildered Tynedale defence to touch down under the posts for fullback Liam O’Neill to convert. An attack on the right was then stopped by the visitors illegally. Immediately quick thinking scrum-half Luke Carter took a tapped penalty which started the best handling movement of the game as the Hawks moved the ball from right to left with accurate passing to give Alan Awcroft the opportunity to score a debut for the hosts.
With the score at 34-17 there was now a pause in the Hawks scoring although for the third time in the game lock McNally, backing up breaks by Stapley, was hauled down a few metres from the line after 35 metres bursts.
Scoring activity resumed when Allen again mesmerised the Tynedale cover to score against the posts for Danny Wells, a replacement centre at half-time, to convert.
At 41-17 up the Hawks were now easing away against a tiring Tynedale side, particularly in the scrums where Hawks’ tight head Dave Manning was taking advantage of the new scrummaging laws to put the visitors in retreat. With good ball the Hawks’ backs were enjoying space and Wells scored having destroyed a tackle with a hand-off after 70 minutes.
The Hawks wrapped up their scoring when they again destroyed a Tynedale scrum on five metres where replacement flanker Tommy Haynes stretched over to touch down a loose ball.
A good crowd of 625 enjoyed a game of fast open rugby in which Stapley was voted man-of-the-match.
Henley Hawks: 15 Liam O’Neill (Mark Bruce, 58 mins), 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Martin Nutt, 12 Tom Allen, 11 Alan Awcock, 10 James Comben (Danny Wells, 40 mins), 9 Luke Carter, 1 Dai Maddocks, 2 Alex Penny (Ed Church, 66-79 mins), 3 Dave Manning, 4 David Clements, 5 Josh McNally (Tommy Haynes, 71 mins), 6 Will Woodward, 7 Liam Dwyer, 8 Robbie Stapley (Ryan Long, 62 mins).
IN A return fixture from last year the Henley Hawks Women saw off a strong Hampstead Heath side who play their rugby in the equivalent Championship 2 SE League in a friendly on Sunday.
The game was spilt into four 20-minute periods to allow both sides to test new players and combinations leading into their respective league games this Sunday.
Henley started the stronger and the pace outside was too much for Hampstead Heath at times.
The Hawks ran out 31-12 winners having run in five tries (Atkinson 2, Carr, Solowin, Forbes) and three conversions (Dudding).