HENLEY HAWKS coach Pete Davies says the club is targeting an immediate return to the third
HENLEY HAWKS coach Pete Davies says the club is targeting an immediate return to the third tier of English rugby as his team travels to Redruth tomorrow (Saturday) on the opening day of the season.
The club was relegated to National League 2 South last season but Davies says he is optimistic the Hawks will have a strong season.
He also hopes for greater consistency with his squad, which this year will not feature any dual registration players.
He explained: “I was relying on getting these players released by directors of rugby from Premiership clubs. Often we didn’t find out until Thursday which was very disruptive.
“The idea is we have more consistency in terms of selection and the lads feel they are valued.”
Davies admitted the move would mean compromising slightly on quality but is confident it will pay off.
“The league is tough and the guys have got to stick together through thick and thin and hopefully with just having Henley players that will be enhanced,” he said.
“We want to win the league. We have won it the last two times we have been in it so there’s no reason why we can’t be competitive.”
The squad has been training hard since June and working on conditioning.
Davies says: “The boys are the fittest they have ever been. It’s certainly the fittest squad I’ve coached at Henley.
“It was our biggest downfall last season, our lack of physical fitness. The strength and conditioning which we did this time last year wasn’t adequate.
“We would go out for 40 to 50 minutes and hold our own and then tail off and concede lots of points. There were errors being made in attack and defence because we couldn’t maintain the level of intensity in the first half of the game. We have fixed that now.
“It’s a long season and there are other really good teams in the league with some real qualityÂ so it’s going to be tough and you’re going to have to have a stroke of luck in terms of injuries along the way and having your best players on the field.”
Davies believes his team are playing Redruth at the perfect time of the season by getting the long journey to Cornwall out of the way early.
“The ground will be firm, we’ll catch them cold as it were,” he said. “As a result of our strong pre-season, we have got a good understanding of the game plan.”
Redruth finished fourth in the league last season but the resignation of their head coach Steve Larkins, just last month, may work in the Hawks’ favour.
Over the years games between the two clubs have always been closely contested with home advantage frequently being the deciding factor.
There are eight newcomers to the squad selected to start the game, three amongst the backs, three forwards and two on the bench.
Joe Butler will play at fly-half where he has featured as a scorer of a couple of tries in pre-season friendlies. He will be partnered at scrum-half by George Jackson who has already shown to be a reliable place kicker and seems likely to be the principal kicker although James Comben, the scorer of more than 1,000 points for the Hawks will be in the side at fullback.
The third new back is wing Dyneal Fessal, a powerful tackler who has pace. The pack sees two new signings in the front row, both props. Brad Cook has moved from Bury St Edmunds, who will be new opponents for the Hawks when they meet later on this season, and Ziana Mountout-Alexis, one of a clutch of players who have joined Henley from Ealing.
David Hyde has made an immediate impact at lock partnering Dave Clements. The Hawks will be his first senior club having previously played for Witney.
The Hawks have made a deliberate move to strengthen the front row with the newcomers on the bench both being props. Zaki Chamnaoui and George Primett are typical of the youthful players who have joined the Hawks this year.
They will all learn much playing against a typical West Country side and particularly pack although the Hawks have an all round experienced bench , in Jake Albon, (lock), Tommy Haynes (back row), and Simon Perry (versatile back).
Davies will be relying on the support of the club’s fans and said: “We really appreciate the support we get, particularly the travelling support. It makes a big difference to the team.”
He also has one eye on next weekend’s first home fixture of the season against fierce rivals Chinnor with another derby later in the season against the Sonning-based Redingensians.
Both clubs, he said, had spent more during the summer than the Hawks.
To win both, Davies says, “means everything” adding: “We’re opening the new clubhouse the day we play Chinnor.
“We have got a healthy rivalry with them but we desperately want to beat them. We want to beat Redingensians too, and we’ll be doing everything we possibly can to make sure that happens.”
Henley Hawks squad: 15 James Comben, 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Liam O’Neill, 12 Louis Flynn, 11 Dyneal Fessal, 10 Joe Butler, 9 George Jackson, 1 Brad Cook, 2 Tom Embury, 3 Ziana Mountout-Alexis, 4 Dave Clements, 5 David Hyde, 6 Tom Hall, 7 Connor Morrison and 8 Julian Watkins.