HENLEY BULLS suffered a first-half barrage from the visiting Esher Cardinals during which the visitors adapted much better to the atrocious playing conditions on Saturday.
The Cardinals played much of their penetrative rugby within the 15 metres of the touchlines, offering close support and shorter off-loading that often caught the Bulls defence flat-footed and squeezed the midfield defence leaving space for them to amass a five-try lead by half-time.
The slick ball and sticky underfoot conditions seemed to pose little deterrent from moving the ball quickly and effectively to the wider, less defended channels in the final 10 metres to touch down for the first three of their well-constructed scores.
The Bulls, in comparison, looked less threatening and seemed to find the conditions much more restrictive although gaining some quality possession from the set piece where they appeared to have the upper hand at both scrum and line-out.
The highlight of the Bulls’ first half was a period of pressure created by two driving mauls from attacking line-outs where prop George Hayes was denied a try by the referee whose view of his touchdown from the tail of the maul was blocked. The Cardinals went into the break 29-0 up.
The second half proved to be much more of a contest as the Bulls changed their approach from trying to outflank Esher and made inroads early on. This was due to some sterling work from the Bulls’ pack when number eight James Bloxham opened their account with a glance through tackles to score under the posts. The Bulls lost skipper Chris Emmett with a shoulder injury shortly after and he was replaced by the Nottingham University student Tom Steindler who continued to put further pressure on the Cardinals.
Despite the score-line scrum-half Mark Bruce was proving his worth producing quality ball for fly-half Guy Swadling, who began to look more of an attacking threat along with his three-quarters and on two separate occasions centre Rory Lillington broke the Esher defence with his hard angled attacks to ensure the Bulls some territorial gains. Soon the pressure on the Esher defence forced a rare handling error which Jack Antoniou pounced upon to score the Bulls’ second try, both converted by Swadling.
As the game reached its conclusion, Bulls fullback Adam Lubbock almost put Tom Huggins clear for a third try but the mud-caked ball went to ground before reaching the winger’s grasp.
The final few minutes favoured the Cardinals as the Bulls pressed hard with darting runs from Lillington and Percell-Lacey being thwarted, the visitors were gifted an interception in the festive spirit to sprint in for a try against the run of play.
Henley Bulls: George Hayes, Warren Higgins, Alex Murison, Max Murison, Tom McGregor, Ben Ashmore, Chris Emmett, James Bloxham, Mark Bruce, Guy Swadling, Tom Huggins, Rory Lillington, James Percell-Lacey, Jack Antoniou, Adam Lubbock. Replacements all used: Tom Steindler, Sam Middleton, Gareth Johnsen.