WITH the league secured almost two months ago, the Hawks Women had a long wait for the promotional play-off match.
It meant three years of trying to return all came down to Sunday.
Their opponents, Blackheath had duly won their league for the third year and narrowly missed going up last season.
The game took place at a neutral ground in London, where good support for both sides had amassed.
A strong diagonal wind coming down the pitch meant tactics for each half would be required.
The Hawks won the toss and elected to play into the wind in the first half.
That allowed them to settle into their rhythm in what predictably turned out to be a nervous affair.
However, they looked composed as they brought Solowin and Hearn into the attack out wide.
Good set-piece ball and the hallmark defence led by Parry, Lynch and Barrett allowed for plenty of possession.
The wind would play its part though and any small error saw the Hawks back into their half as Blackheath put boot to ball.
Any penalties were made easier and it was Heath who opened the scoring with a shot in front of the posts.
Henley was now getting into their stride though, as the final 20 minutes was all them. With a few scoring opportunities missed, Lynch attempted a kick at goal in the final seconds of the half.
It fell short and Henley gathered to launch another attack, but the Black and Reds held out on the goal line to go into the half with a narrow lead.
With momentum very much with the Hawks they opened the second half with a bang.
Pinning their opponents into their 22, Blackheath opted to kick to clear only for the ball to reach Hearn, who set off on another good run.
Quick ball meant it moved down the line and Atkinson finished off in the right corner. To their credit Blackheath reacted well and went to the bench to bring on a bigger pack to just pound away. It worked as they started to dominate the scrum and made good yards with pick and goes. A few penalties meant they worked up towards the Henley goal line and good support allowed their winger to regain the lead. With twenty minutes still to go Henley just kept calm and made changes off the bench too.
The Hawks then upped the tempo and Heath struggled to contain legally awarding Lynch a successful attempt. It was now eight all and fifteen minutes before extra time. Further penalties mounted and when Lathbury-Haig went quickly so did their scrum half to the bin. It allowed them to regroup and with only a few to go Blackheath broke out. With a penalty of their own they selected to kick to the corner and use their driving maul. It didn’t reach and a fine clearance kick from Hearn saw Carr and Gross lend chase to hunt down the fullback way back in the other twenty-two.
Down to the last minutes of play and Henley were in the right area. They continued to chip away and a belief they weren’t going to lose this season would once again see them through. Hearn was almost put through as extra time beckoned.
Then in the dying moments the Henley pack stepped up and forced a turnover and a re-scrum twenty yards out. The final attack lead to a maul and as they drove on Heath infringed. Lynch stepped forward and coolly converted the last act of the match to break Blackheath hearts once again.
It was a dramatic way to end an amazing unbeaten season and a tough way for any side to have to lose, in a match that Blackheath more than played their part. We wish them well for next year.
Player’s player this day went to Lynch and in the spirit of the game both sides competed in a boat race after to drown some sorrows or start some celebrations.
1) Barrett 2) Ferguson 3) Adams 4) Lester 5) Wheeler 6) Simpson 7) Atkinson 8) Wysocki-Jones 9) Forbes 10) Dudding 11) Parry 12) Lynch 13) Solowin 14) Wells 15) Hearn - Subs: Beech, Mckenzie-Dalton, Harrison, Lathbury-Haig, Gross, Carr, Stacey.