HENLEY HAWKS battled out a draw in what was a hard fought encounter at Dry Leas last Saturday.
Defences dominated throughout and both sides tackled with such determination that the opportunities to create tries were limited in the extreme.
The game was also marred by injury to a key player on either side. Park captain and number eight Hugo Ellis limped from the field with a leg injury after 21 minutes and the Hawks toll of more serious injuries was added to when influential prop Dave Manning was stretchered off on the brink of half-time.
Despite the fact that the Hawks were handicapped by the award of a yellow card for a dangerous tackle by centre Tom Allen after only 15 minutes they had the better of possession in the first half. Although they controlled this with a calm authority playing with the ball in hand in typical fashion with the pack pressing forward with some controlled off loading they could only score and take the lead through a penalty by Danny Wells after 12 minutes.
On occasions the backs also made incursions through half breaks but attacks were snuffed out by referee Tom Davis’s insistence that the ball in the tackle had to be moved on almost instantaneously. Little was seen of the Park’s backs in attacks during this half. The Hawks came close to scoring when a powerful run by Alan Awcock came to nothing when his attempt to off-load went slightly astray and the Park cleared their line.
The loss of Manning with a serious ankle injury had an effect on the balance of the game in the second half. The Hawks were now under pressure in the set scrums and for the first time Park established themselves in the Hawks’ 22.
The immediate consequence was an award of a penalty which Park’s fly-half Sam Katz successfully kicked to equalise.
The visitors were now stretching the Hawks defence and on two occasions were stopped by last ditch tackling. The Hawks covering was immense and although the whole team played their part the outstanding play came from man-of-the-match Liam Dwyer.
With the Hawks pack feeling the pressure, especially after right wing Dom Shabbo made a 40 metres burst down the right wing to touch down only to be called back for a foot in touch, it was surprising when the Park chose to take a penalty rather than press home the advantage they now had in the set scrums. However Katz gave his side the lead at 6-3 from 30 metres. The Hawks showed their resilience and moving the ball amongst the backs earned a penalty when Park centre Henry Staff killed the ball 40 metres out and the reliable boot of Wells tied the scores with 23 minutes still on the clock. The Hawks played much of this time on or close to half way and scrum-half Luke Carter took every opportunity to keep the Park defence honest with several darting runs.
A draw could be judged to be a fair result for two earnest competing sides. The Hawks had the satisfaction of preserving their unbeaten home record since January 2012 although this was the first time they had failed to score a try since March last year when they lost way at Dings Crusaders.
Henley Hawks: 15 Liam O’Neill, 14 Neil Baggett, 13 Martin Nutt, 12 Danny Wells, 11 Alan Awcroft, 10 Tom Allen, 9 Luke Carter, 1 Dave Manning (Hugo Milford-Scott, 39 mins), 2 Ant Brennan (Tommy Haynes, 57 mins), 3 Alex Penny, 4 Dave Clements, 5 Josh McNally, 6 Ryan Long (Will Woodward, 50 mins), 7 Liam Dwyer, 8 Robbie Stapley. Subs not used: Mark Bruce, Matt Reeves.