HENLEY BULLS have travelled to Molesey Road in recent seasons with little success to speak of,
HENLEY BULLS have travelled to Molesey Road in recent seasons with little success to speak of, as Esher continue to be one of the strongest sides in Zoo Shield Division 1, yet with 15 minutes remaining of the match they seemed closer to upsetting the odds than at any previous encounter in west London on Saturday.
Despite trailing in terms of points throughout the game, the Bulls enjoyed some dominant periods of possession and pressure that had Esher clinging to their lead mid-way through the game as the continuous drizzle made life difficult for both sides to play expansively.
Esher, making the most of a wind advantage, took the early lead crashing over from short range after several quick short drives around the fringe of the ruck with momentum that Henley’s tight defence failed to match. An easy conversion put Esher 7-0 up.
Henley, with several debutants on display, were showing signs of their intent to make ground with captain Scott White tackling ferociously from the start and fly-half Tom Parton varying his attacking strategy from boot to hand with success.
Within 10 minutes the Bulls had equalled the score at the opposite end with gritty ball carrying from Jimmy Wright and Josh Collis to press into the 22 where Matt Thomas and Marcus Lowe showed patience to recycle quick ball to Stevenson-Wright to feed Parton who slipped the cover to score and convert his own try.
Just prior to half-time Esher regained the lead, pressing down the left flank with a late switch play that seemed to block out the Henley tackle cover to cross out wide and slot the angled conversion giving them a 14-7 platform at the break.
At the start of the second half the Bulls pressed for territory although the wind advantage they hoped to benefit from had now curtailed.
James Hadfield and former Hawks skipper Martin Nutt made ground into Esher territory and pressure from break out plays involving Keanu Brouard and Charlie Sichel resulted in penalties that could have been exploited with more accuracy. Instead Esher used turn-over possession to kick and chase and enjoyed the luck of the bounce to score on the counter attack and stretch away to a 24-7 lead having landed a penalty on top. The Bulls did not sit back but returned with a fixed mind-set to claw back the score and within a minute several successful rucks led to Parton spotting Marcus Lowe out wide and a floating kick was gathered by Lowe who touched down for Parton to convert to reduce the arrears to 24-14.
As Henley’s resolute defensive cover held firm with Nutt and Bailey forcing errors they again pressurised the Esher lines and Parton fed accurately by Stevenson-Wright showed another of a variety of skills sliding a low grubber kick through the on-rushing defence and re-gathering it to flop over the line. With a third successful conversion the Bulls trailed 24-21.
At this point with 15 minutes remaining Esher dug their heels in and although Henley pressed for a winner it was a mixture of set piece inaccuracy and over-eagerness that seemed to enter their game and Esher counter attacked with a grit to defend their home record and a clever kick through and chase put them in under the posts to hammer home an advantage.
With the last play of the game the Bulls’ unwavering determination to score the bonus try was evident but again the slick ball and fatigue combined to undo an attempted foray which Esher’s backs did well to punish, counter-attacking again with turn-over possession against a scrambling defence.
Henley Bulls: James Hadfield, Keanu Brouard, Charlie Sichel, Matt Thomas, Jimmy Wright (Sam Middleton, 55 mins), Josh Collis, Scott White, James Stevenson-Wright, Tom Parton, Ross Lewis (Ollie Vine, 70 mins), Martin Nutt, Andrew Bailey, Guy Rawsthorn (Ainsley Campbell, 63 mins), Luke Govier.