Thursday, 11 August 2022

League leaders halt Bulls charge

HENLEY BULLS went down to a home defeat in their Zoo Shield clash with top-of-the-table Blackheath Heathens last Saturday.

At times during the first half of this fiercely contested match the Bulls looked to be the equals of their opponents to whom they suffered a heavy defeat back in September.

The Bulls recent form has resulted in a leap up the table to fifth place and prior to the interval the game looked to go either way with the Bulls employing plenty of variety in their attack whilst much of the territorial gains made by the Heathens were down to the tactical kicking approach from former Munster fly-half Ian Cross.

Both sides secured their own ball at the set-piece for much of the game and used their possession to good effect but the conditions underfoot stifled the pace and guile of the Bulls pace-men on occasions.

Sam Portland, making his return in the gold shirt after several seasons, looked sharp as did Dyneal Fessal returning from injury on the other flank. The Bulls opened with the intent but the 15 minutes of dominating possession and launching their attack were often curtailed by the conditions forcing handling errors with the ball caked in mud.

Dave Hankinson impressed the most at centre as he gained ground on several occasions cutting through the Heathens defence only for them to pin the support runners back with some aggressive defence.

The Heathens opened the score through a close-quarter onslaught of the Bulls line using their heavier pack. The Bulls held out well including a turnover from Tommy Haynes on his own line but the next wave saw the scrum-half dummy and slip inside the fringe defence to score from a ruck.

The Bulls responded quickly with Josh Collis and Zaki Chamnaoui involved in taking the ball to the line and Harry Burn fed the overlap through Toby Howe to Dave Hankinson who missed out support runner Udomu to float a pass into Portland’s hands to bring the scores level.

The Heathens opened the second half as the more lively of the teams in terms of variety and attack and a 10-minute spell allowed the visitors to capitalise on a dip in concentration and rare lapse in defensive organisation out wide as they counter-attacked from a spilled midfield pass and the left wing went over and under the posts for Cross to add the extras.

Almost from the restart the Bulls were again on the back foot under their own posts and on this occasion former Bull Hubert Dampier benefited from a wide pass from Cross to score.

The next 20 minutes of play saw a resurgence from the Bulls, desperate to claw the 12 point gap back and prop Barnaby Abdale-Weir acted as the link man between forwards and backs on two occasions where the Bulls attack was cancelled out by a handling error or a last-ditch tackle.

Captain Luke Govier was forced to retire and was replaced by Teddy Hewins who added some energy in attack. The Bulls pressed for a further try but as the whistle approached the final blow came on the counter-attack again as the Heathens crossed on the right flank again to extinguish the Bulls’ hopes of a comeback.

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