Sunday, 14 August 2022

Hawks head coach eyes top six finish after turn in form

THE head coach of Henley Hawks says he is aiming for a top-six finish this season.

Pete Davies says his players have recovered from a slow start to their National League 2 campaign and are beginning to find form.

The Hawks lost three of their first four games but have now clocked up nine wins out of 16, including five in their last seven games.

They now sit in sixth place on equal points with Redruth in fifth after narrowly losing to undefeated league leaders Chinnor at Dry Leas on Saturday.

Davies says his side had a tough run of fixtures to start the campaign but are now hitting a run of form going into the second half of the season.

He said: “We didn’t have a good start but looking at the table now we actually played the top three teams in the league in our first three games.

“We weren’t to know then that they would be the form teams in the competition. Since then we’ve had better availability of players and the team has performed exceptionally well.”

Davies praised the medical staff at the club as he has enjoyed a run of availability for key players and says the turnaround in form was also partly due to the club getting used to the sport’s new rule changes. The new laws, introduced in the summer, include changes to the breakdown, penalty tries and overtime after 80 minutes and mean teams often keep possession of the ball for longer.

Davies said: “We’ve adapted to the new laws of the game well and had to change our gameplan. We thought the league would be more about kicking and territory in order to win games and that’s what we practised in pre-season.

“The new law changes mean that kicking the ball is not the best tactic so we’ve had to change our plan. We are now scoring more tries and picking up more bonus points. The new laws suit the Henley style.”

Director of rugby Nigel Dudding added: “Now whichever side has the ball will keep it for longer and there are more phases. The breakdown has also changed so we have to get our contact skills that bit better. We rethought a number of things and we have now got a better attacking shape.”

Davies says the new rules also lead to more points at both ends of the field and inevitably this will mean the Hawks concede more than in previous seasons.

The team has already shipped more than 470 points this season, compared to 840 in the whole of last term but he says comparisons are pointless.

Davies said: “All over rugby union from internationals down to our level you will see that the number of points scored has gone up and that’s down to the new laws.

“The team with the ball, if skilful, can keep possession and score tries so comparing last year to this year is not sensible. The game is very different but people outside of the game don’t appreciate that.”

Davies says the club has focused on bringing through players from its reserve side, Henley Bulls, and he has been pleased with some of the new faces this season.

He said: “I’ve been impressed with a couple of the guys who have come through from the Bulls, such as Will James and Iwan Macrae.

“Our number eight Marcus Lowe has played at a high level and last year’s player of the season David Hyde has figured massively in games.

“A special mention must go to captain Jake Albon who has been helping the other players cope and building up their confidence. It’s critical to keep these guys fit.” Dudding added: “Some of the players who haven’t experienced rugby at this level have come in and done well, youngsters like Marcus (Lowe) and those who haven’t played much at this standard like Jack Robinson. We are delighted with the progress they are making.”

Dudding also thanked supporters for continuing to get behind the team. The club underwent a renovation in the summer, including the construction of new £450,000 changing rooms to go alongside the £475,000 clubhouse opened last year.

He said: “Dry Leas has now changed beyond all recognition. The new clubhouse is fantastic and the changing rooms and medical facilities mean we can enhance the players’ experience and look after them better.

“The supporters have been fantastic with how they have responded and the amount of money they have raised. We are now looking to repay their faith by performing on the field.”

Davies says his aim at the start of the season was to better last year’s finishing position of 10th but he now believes to team can do even better.

“There’s no team we fear in the second half of the season,” he said. “If we keep our best players fit and on the field we can compete with the best teams in the league.

“We’ve already beaten the sides in third and fourth place and our form would suggest we are only going to get better. Our target is still to beat 10th place but the top six, if we remain fit and healthy, is achievable.”

Dudding added: “The top two teams are probably a bit too far ahead to catch and have only lost one game between them all season.

“But you never know and the second half of the season is always a different shape. The new five or six week are crucial is deciding who will be there at the end of the day.

“There are a lot of twists and turns in this league yet.”

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