Friday, 12 August 2022

New Hawks coach believes side can finish in top five

THE new head coach of Henley Hawks is targeting a top five finish this season.

Luke Allen will take charge of the side for the first time tomorrow (Saturday) away at Bury St Edmunds in National League 2 South.

He was appointed to the top job following the departure of Pete
Davies, who ended his eight-year coaching association with the club in May.

Allen, the club’s former forwards coach, joined Henley as a player in 2013 from Cinderford where he had a successful playing career for three seasons.

But he suffered a serious neck injury in pre-season preparation which limited his Hawks appearances to eight games.

Since coming in, 30-year-old Allen has boosted the club’s playing staff and says he wants to make the side hard to beat.

He said: “It’s been brilliant, we’ve had 40 or 50 players training twice a week. There are a lot more players this year with strong links with the RAF and a couple of lads from Chinnor — Rory Mason and Alex Bradley. I want Henley to be physical and intimidating but play with the flair that Pete wanted.

“I’m quietly confident, nervous and excited for the boys to go out and express themselves.”

Allen says he was ready to quit the sport after his injury before Davies offered him a coaching role.

He said: “I started my coaching career when I was 25. I was ready to walk away from the game after my injury but I’ve not looked back since.

“When I was offered the head coach role it was daunting but in life you don’t get many opportunities you are 100 per cent ready for.”

Allen will be assisted by Tom Gardner, a senior coach for the RAF winners of the Inter Services tournament this year, and long-serving Henley Bulls coach Andy Jones.

He says they have concentrated on improving the club’s infrastructure, with more focus on a stronger second team to provide competition to the first team.

Allen said: “We’ve been honest and set down what we want to do. I want us to go back to the grassroots.

“Pete had some fantastic systems but we’ve gone back to the club to say we need support from the bottom to the top. You can’t have a successful first team without people in the second team to push them.

“We’ve also changed the training regime to make it shorter and sharper and are incorporating other coaches like Tommy Haynes. Having more voices instead of one or two has been great.”

Nigel Dudding, director of rugby at the club, said: “Luke’s been one of our senior coaches at the club for the last three years.

“He knows all the systems and has proven himself to be a good coach. He has all the qualities we are looking for. He’s also an ex-Hawk and we are trying to keep everything in house with people who understand Henley Rugby Club and what it’s about.

“It’s been a very good pre-season. Both Luke and Tom Gardner have worked in tandem to produce well-organised sessions and getting our bigger squad well-prepared.”

Bury St Edmunds finished one place and four points above Henley last season, although they were beaten by the Hawks twice.

Allen has selected five players to make their debuts including Sam Lunnon, a summer signing from Old Albanians who will also captain the side. New prop Mason joins Brad Cook and Tom Emery in the front row.

Young scrum half Leo Webb also starts with regular Joe Butler at half back while winger George Wood and full back Sam Randle will also make their debut in the backs.

Allen said: “I’m really excited for the boys to show what they’ve got. The mood in the camp is good so I’m hoping we can keep the error count low and capitalise on a strong defence.

“I’d be happy with a top five finish this season but it’s a process. This year is about recruitment and development and then in the next two years we can push performance.”

Henley Hawks:

15 Sam Randle, 14 Sam Portland, 13 Xavier Andre, 12 Connor Morrison, 11 George Wood, 10 Joe Butler, 9 Leo Webb

1 Brad Cook, 2 Tom Emery, 3 Rory Mason, 4 Jake Albon, 5 Dave Hyde, 6 Sam Lunnon (Capt), 7 Tom Hall, 8 Marcus Lowe

Reps: 16 George Primett, 17 Dave Manning, 18 Liam Goodison, 19 Liam O’Neill, 20 Jack Robinson

Kick Off 3pm at the Haberden Ground, Bury St Edmunds

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