HENLEY HAWKS showed their best form of the season when they soundly defeated Cambridge at Dry Leas on Saturday.
In doing so they scored five tries which earned them a bonus point which put them five points ahead of Taunton Titans, who went down to Bishops Stortford, at the top of Division 2 South.
The first 15 minutes saw a desultory start with neither side able to command worthwhile possession and there was little indication of what was to come.
The stalemate was broken when the visitors conceded a penalty in front of their posts which was meat and drink to the reliable place kicking ability of Hawks fly-half Will Robinson who put the hosts into a 3-0 lead.
The Hawks were able to get possession from the set scrums where they had the edge on Cambridge as well as the line outs where the visitors were finding it difficult to throw the ball in straight at times.
With this possession, also occasionally from driving mauls, they started to play free flowing rugby with both forwards and backs running on to the ball at speed which with continuity from back-up play had the Cambridge defence under acute pressure.
The Hawks had the benefit of a good combination at half-back with Connor Murphys swift low raking service giving Robinson the ability to probe the Cambridge defence and he moved the ball wide and accurately to his backs to latch on to the ball in defence, stretching fluid movements devoid of handling errors.
The first try by the Hawks came from a largely individual effort from centre Ed Yarton. He was in a handling movement 35 metres from the Cambridge line when he spotted a hole in a slightly misaligned defence which he exploited with a couple of side steps which put him 10 metres out from the line where he shook off the despairing lung of a defender to put the ball near enough to the posts to make the conversion straight forward for Robinson. Seven minutes later Robinson kicked a second penalty to put the Hawks 13-0 ahead.
Although the Hawks continued to dominate play the next try came from an unexpected source.
The Hawks were controlling the heel from a set-scrum 15 metres from half-way when number eight Oscar Hirskyj-Douglas took the Cambridge back row by surprise, having slipped as he went to secure the ball. When safely in possession he stormed away near the touchline, and having left the Cambridge guard in their tracks, proceeded to cross the home line and claim an impressive try.
At half-time the Hawks were 18-0 ahead when a heavy rain storm threatened to change the nature of the game, the Hawks having enjoyed sunny dry conditions which suited their swift handling movements.
The stormy conditions quickly passed when play resumed and Henley drove towards the Cambridge line deep into their 22.
Matt Payne used his experience to complete the resultant surge by touching down to consolidate the Hawks lead at 23-0 and make the ultimate result of the game now in the Hawks favour.
The forwards, now well on top, again put the visitors under pressure and they could not prevent prop Dave Manning crashing over for the Hawks fourth which Robinson converted to make it 30-0.
The home side went further ahead when a skilful break by Robinson gave Simon Perry the chance to score his third try of the season which with the conversion made the score 37-0.
Cambridge enjoyed more possession in the last quarter of the game and although they hammered away at the Hawks line for 10 minutes they could not find their way through.
The best chance of a try came when Robbie Stapley came storming through from the half-way line showing pace not usually associated with a back row. It seemed that he would end the game on a high. The Cambridge defence had other ideas helped by his decision not to pass to a couple of colleagues poised to assist from favourable positions.
This decisive victory was achieved with the replacements bench being filled with one exception debutante wing Connor Corrigan by players of experience and usually first choice. The selection was made to test the depth in the strength of the Hawks squad this year and to prove,to some extent that no player in the squad can automatically command a place in the starting line-up.
Henley Hawks: 15 Tom Allen, 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Simon Perry, 12 Ed Yarnton, 11 Lloyd Owen ( Conner Corrigan, 20 mins), 10 Will Robinson, 9 Conner Murphy, 1 Tom West (Dave Manning, 40 mins), 2 Stuart Philpott (Nathan Taylor, 64 mins), 3 James Titchfield (Tom West, 62 mins), 4 Dave Clements, Will Woodward, 49 mins), 5 Will Woodward (Ryan Newman, 40 mins), 6 Matt Payne (Tom Hall, 80 mins), 7 Tom Hall (Robbie Stapley, 49 mins), 8 Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas.