HENLEY HAWKS eventually went down to defeat at Esher in an evenly contested match that ebbed and flowed with the lead changing hands four times.
The Hawks had the better of the first half leading 23-13 at the break. Esher came back strongly in the second in which they scored three tries in 10 minutes to deny the Hawks a bonus point.
After missing his first attempt at kicking a penalty Esher fullback Luke Daniels converted his second attempt eight minutes into the game to put the hosts ahead. Esher continued to play the game in the Hawks’ half after Danny Wells had equalised with a similar effort.
This pressure in the Hawks 22 was rewarded for Esher when lock Cameron Gentles strode through thin cover to touch down under the posts which Daniels made into a seven-point score with his conversion.
The Hawks kept in touch with a second penalty by Wells who had six successful kicks at goal in the course of the game with three penalties and three conversions — a good afternoon’s work as a deputy for the injured James Comben. With the score at 10-6 to Esher after 17 minutes the Hawks were able to get some decent possession and proceeded to silence the home support when left wing Alan Awcock was put away in space to score near to the posts. Wells converted to put the Hawks 13-10 ahead.
This lead was short lived as referee Shane Lewis punished a high tackle delivered by robust Hawks prop Alex Penny to equalise the scores.
The ding-dong nature of the scoring continued when Wells was able to convert penalty number three.
The kicking stalemate was ended when the Hawks pack began to dominate the Esher eight to such an extent that from a lineout they drove 15 metres for Robbie Stapley to plunge over for a try.
This spurred the Esher pack into similar action and as half-time approached they made every effort to disturb the Hawks’ lead but failed.
However it was a different story after the break. The Hawks fumbled the restart kick and gaining possession the home side, now playing with increased fervour, commanded it to such an extent that within 10 minutes they scored three converted tries. The first was by replacement scrum-half Robbie Shaw who ran wide from what appeared a crooked lineout throw. This was followed by tries scored by two of the front row, club hooker Neil Sweeney and prop Neil Maguire overcoming a less than robust Hawks defence in ruck situations.
Henley were not about to surrender and with reasonably good possession they were prepared to threaten the Esher lead with their superior back play and this was demonstrated when the ball was put wide to Xavier Andre, the quickest and most elusive back on the field, who demonstrated his skills when outpacing the Esher cover down the right from half way and touching down for Wells to make the score 34-30.
The Hawks’ chances of re-taking the lead were diminished when centre Neil Baggett was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle with 15 minutes remaining. The Hawks were denied a bonus point when Daniels kicked two more penalties to make the score 40-30.
The final blow for the Hawks came in the last minutes of the game when, in winning a race to a touch down a kick ahead in the Hawks’ dead ball area, Xavier Andre collided with Hawks’ scrum-half Luke Carter and suffered a damaged ACL shoulder joint.
The defeat was only the Hawks’ second of the year, their previous one being back in January against Launceston.
Henley Hawks: 15 Neil Baggett, 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Martin Nutt, 12 Danny Wells, 11 Alan Awcock, 10 Tom Allen, 9 Luke Carter, 1 Dai Maddocks, 2 Alex Penny, 3 Dave Manning, 4 Dave Clements, 5 Josh McNally, 6 Will Woodward, 7 Liam Dwyer, 8 Rob Stapley. Replacements: 16 Ant Brennan, 17 Tommy Haynes, 18 Ryan Long. Replacements not used: James Bloxham, Mark Bruce.