A NINTH defeat in 10 matches has left Henley Hawks seven points adrift of safety in National Division 1.
The Hawks travelled to Old Albanians on Saturday aiming to get their season back on track and move away from the drop zone.
The opening 10 minutes of the game signalled this intent and playing some good open rugby they had the home side on the back foot.
They were quick to cash in on some dilatory play by the Albanian side and with some decisive running opened their defence. Breaking down the right the visitors were able to put fullback Ed Yarnton up in support and clear to score unopposed. With a conversion by James Comben the Hawks left the home side flummoxed.
This was confirmed two minutes later when gaining good possession they moved the ball to the opposite wing where Liam O’Neill was put clear to run in from 22 metres but the Hawks’ celebrations were short lived as assistant referee Andrew Vertigan advised referee Jimmie Leahy that the pass was forward rather than flat.
From there on the officials’ interpretation of the laws had an increasing influence on the nature of the game and eventually the outcome.
The Hawks fell foul of the referee’s whistle in every respect of ruck and maul in a period of 20 minutes.
This led to the hosts having the lion’s share of possession. The Hawks’ tackling was sound and kept them at bay but fly-half Lawrence Rayner put his side on the scoreboard after 18 minutes with a penalty, after directing other opportunities to touch, when Hawks’ number eight Robbie Stapley was given a yellow card for offside in a scoring position.
Although the Hawks held their own with one man short in the set scrums for much of the 10 minutes, they were not able to prevent Albanian lock Billy Johnson forcing his way over for a try after 29 minutes, with a straightforward conversion by Rayner to follow.
The Hawks had difficulty in getting enough quality possession to develop sustained pressure on the home line and found it hard to develop anything from their own line-outs and also to put the opposition throws under threat with Johnson very much in command.
As far as making progress with the ball in hand was concerned the Albanians failed to develop scoring opportunities and had to rely on the accurate boot of Rayner to put them further in the lead, 13-7, with another penalty as half-time approached. This was matched by Hawks’ James Comben with a kick from 45 metres to close the first 40 minutes.
The second half again demonstrated the little difference between the two sides. The Hawks forwards began to be more effective with Matt Payne, Ryan Newman and Josh McNally prominent backing up the dynamism of Stapley but it was Albanians who scored when Rayner kicked his third penalty on the hour mark to make the score 16-10. The Hawks were still within one converted try of victory. They then embarked on their best period of the match when forwards and backs using retained possession for the first time in the game combined to keep the ball moving around the Albanians’ 22 metre zone. The ball moved through seven phases at its peak and nearly culminated in a match-winning try by left wing Xavier Andre who broke through heading for the posts only to be brought low by a tapped tackle 10 metres from the line.
This turned out to be the high water mark of the Hawks’ attacks. Play then came back to the Hawks’ 10 metre line. The hosts got useful secure possession to give Rayner the chance to drop a goal. His attempt drifted wide but almost immediately after he sent the ball high between the post from 40 metres, making the score 19-10.
Henley Hawks: 15 Ed Yarnton, 14 Liam O’Neill, 13 Danny Wells, 12 Tom Allen, 11 Xavier Andre, 10 James Comben, 9 Luke Carter, 1 Billy Moss, 2 Ant Brennan (Alex Penny, 42 mins), 3 Dave Manning (Ian Williams, 40 mins), 4 Josh McNally, 5 Will Woodward (Luke Allen, 64 mins), 6 Ryan Newman, 7 Matt Payne (Ryan Long, 66 mins), 8 Robbie Stapley. Sub not used: Martin Nutt.