ABELOW-STRENGTH Henley Hawks side returned to Coventry after several seasons of absence where they acquitted themselves well against a robust side despite going down 32-15.
The hosts were backed up by an accurate place kicker in South African fullback Cliff Hodgson who scored 12 points with three conversions and three penalties.
The margin of Coventry’s win was not a fair reflection of the Hawks’ contribution to the game which was deservedly won by the Midlanders.
It was their physicality in the loose when tries beckoned which meant that they could make the most of opportunities to score. Props Chris Locke and Tim Ryan, in scoring their first and last tries, gave an indication of this. The Hawks were always well in this game and were unfortunate to be 14-8 in arrears at half-time.
Despite being without their regular locks Josh McNally and Dave Clements their stand-in back row forwards Will Woodward and Liam Dwyer did well in the line-outs and they anchored the set scrums so well that they put the Coventry eight under pressure, particularly in the second half.
The only time that the Hawks were put under pressure at line-outs in the first half came after 10 minutes when the hosts drove over from five metres for Locke to touch down. Hodgson’s conversion gave his side a 7-0 lead. The Hawks, for their part, were getting more than a fair share of possession to run the ball in their accustomed manner although the Coventry defence was difficult to penetrate. Scrum half Luke Carter took every opportunity to test it with sniping runs and was a thorn in their side.
It was unfortunate that the Hawks’ open style of play led to Coventry increasing their lead to 14-0 when a handling movement just outside their 22 was intercepted skilfully by wing Mark Kohler.
The deficit did not do justice to the difficulties they gave to the home side’s defence. Hawks’ number eight Robbie Shapley caused them a lot of trouble with his surging runs which they found difficult to hold and these helped to keep the Hawks firmly in the game.
As half-time approached the visitors produced a passing movement which gave space for left wing Alan Awcock to outflank the Coventry cover in a 60-metre burst before finding Carter in support to touch down the try of the match.
James Comben’s conversion went wide but the Hawks now applied pressure on the Coventry line and several scoring chances were not capitalised on, including an overlap down the right but the fly-half kicked a straight forward penalty to make the half-time score 14-8.
The Hawks started the second half slowly and two quick penalties by Hodgson stretched his side’s lead to 20-8.
It was then the Hawks pack put them firmly back in the game led by front row Alec Hepburn — on loan from Wasps — Ant Brennan and Alex Penny causing the Coventry pack to concede a penalty try.
Coventry lock Tom Poole was sent to the sin bin after 51 minutes but the Hawks could not take best advantage of this and it was Ryan who forced his way over at the other end to make the score 27-15. The Hawks were attacking with less than five minutes of the match remaining when the ball slipped out of the side of a ruck on the Coventry line and was hacked the length of the field for wing Will Hurrell to scramble the ball away from Danny Wells, who had chased the length of the field in an attempt to deny a score.
In the last few minutes skipper Martin Nutt made the best break of the match in the centre before being hauled down about 15 metres from the line.
The Hawks will be encouraged by the fact they took one of the top sides in the league all the way on their home ground and had the best players amongst the forwards and the backs on the field in Stapley and Carter.
Henley Hawks: 15 Tommy Allen, 14 Neil Baggett, 13 Martin Nutt, 12 Danny Wells, 11 Alan Awcock, 10 James Comben, 9 Luke Carter (Adam Lubbock, 69 mins), 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Ant Brennan (Dai Maddocks, 77 mins), 3 Alex Penny (Jim Hadfield, 77 mins), 4 Will Woodward, 5 Liam Dwyer, 6 Ryan Long (James Bloxham, 68 mins), 7 Tommy Haynes, 8 Robbie Stapley.