HENLEY HAWKS slipped to their second home defeat of the season against Fylde at Dry Leas on Saturday.
It had been acknowledged that both sides revelled in fast open play and those who watched this game were not disappointed as far as the tempo of the game was concerned with play sometimes sweeping from one end of the ground to the other.
The first time this happened was within two minutes of the start when the Hawks were pressing forward with Fylde hard put to defend their line attempting to clear it by a kick to touch. This was partially charged down by a Hawks forward only for the ball to fall clear. The visitors took full advantage of this with the speed and crisp handling which was a feature of their game throughout. Feeding the ball 20 metres out from the Hawks’ line their high scoring wing Oliver Brennand burst through two ineffective tackles to touch down close to the posts 75 metres away which fly-half Chris Johnson converted to put Fylde seven points in the lead. This early score gave the visitors a momentum which the they maintained for almost the whole of the first half. They were brisk in their handling and backed up the ball carrier who off-loaded effectively.
Although the Hawks forwards held sway in the set scrums and generally controlled their own line-outs tidily they found it difficult to stretch the Fylde defence although driving mauls were the best means of doing this and they were held up over the line on one occasion.
The Hawks also found it difficult to understand referee Fergus Kirby’s interpretation of the laws in the maul situation and when the ball was on the ground in rucks. Fylde took advantage of this to stop the Hawks sustaining attacks and used numerous penalties conceded by the Hawks to tap and go through lively scrum-half Ryan de la Harpe. By this means they were able to make the most of attacking opportunities and stretched their lead to 14-0 after 18 minutes when Johnson found a gap on the blind side of a scrum 10 metres out.
This set-back was an example of the visitors’ ability to turn such opportunities into scores which the Hawks found difficult having possession turned over when making progress and on one occasion being baffled when referee Kirby penalised them for crossing in a handling movement in midfield. In contrast when Fylde launched an attack in the Hawks 22 they swiftly handled the ball to give wing Ben Bath the room to take the score to 19-0.
The Hawks came back from this and some strong running was seen from Dai Maddocks, Liam O’Neill and Danny Wells but these were not co-ordinated well enough to breach a solid hard tackling Fylde defence.
In contrast, as half-time approached, hooker Tom Burtonwood finished a move over 25 metres to crash over for Johnson to make the score 26-0.
There was time for the Hawks to show what they were capable of when just before the break they forced a scrum on Fylde’s five-metre line for scrum-half Luke Carter to use his strength and guile to force his way over for James Comben to convert to make the half-time score 26-7.
The second half began with the Hawks showing what they could do with the ball in hand and for the next 20 minutes made the visitors look a different team with their confidence shaken to a degree by the Hawks handling and running. They still could not give their wings enough of the ball to make use of the speed of both Jarryd Robinson and O’Neill.
Comben, on two occasions, caught the Fylde centres on the wrong foot to touch down and with his conversions took the score to 26-21 and brought his total of points in the game to 16.
The Hawks were now looking to turn the match as skipper Martin Nutt managed to thrust through the Fylde defensive shield on a couple of occasions but these came to nothing in the visitors’ 10-metre zone.
The opportunity to win the game and at least get one or two bonus points melted away as Fylde, down to 14 men, with the despatch of number eight Robert Stewart to the sin bin after 66 minutes, for the first time held their own in the set scrums although a Johnson penalty had put them clear at 29-21.
The Hawks, with a man advantage, tried to use the forwards through driving mauls and close play to get a vital fourth try and anxiety was evident in their play as their possession was turned over and their backs ignored.
The game was all over for the Hawks in the 72nd minute when Johnson sealed a match-winning performance by dropping a neat goal from in front of the posts. Thereafter it was Fylde who came nearest to scoring when on at least two occasions a scrambling Hawks defence had to keep them out.
Henley Hawks: 15 Martin Nutt, 14 Liam O’Neill, 13. Tom Allen, 12 Danny Wells, 11 Jaryd Robinson, 10 James Comben (Neil Baggett, 80 mins), 9 Luke Carter, 1 Dai Maddocks (Sam Steventon, 75 mins), 4 Will Woodward, 5 Josh McNally (Tommy Haynes, 70 mins), 6 Liam Dwyer, 7 Ryan Long, 8 Robbie Stapley. Subs not used: Jim Hadfield, Connor Stapley.