HENLEY HAWKS returned to the top of the table as they made it five wins on the spin at Launceston, known as the Cornish All Blacks, on Saturday.
This was the Hawks first victory at the Cornish ground in 10 years. They achieved this but not without difficulty.
The visitors superior fitness brought the All Blacks to their knees in the last ten minutes of the game, backed by the kicking form of fly-half Will Robinson who kicked eight out of nine attempts, seven of which were penalties.
Conditions for the game were good, overnight rain having been succeeded by sunshine and a cool breeze. The Hawks played against this from the kick-off but enjoyed the better if the opening exchanges with Robinson putting them in front after two minutes .
They were eager to continue their attack with the ball in hand and after a further five minutes increased their lead to 10-0 after working the ball to left wing Lloyd Owen on an overlap, largely created by a wide pass by Robinson, which gave him room to beat the covering defence. The fly-half gave notice of this kicking form by converting the try from close to touch.
The All Blacks began to show the traditional strength in the pack through their scrummaging and were helped by dominating the restarts which put the Hawks on the back foot. Within four minutes they reduced the Hawks lead to five points when they took a tapped penalty and centre Jacob Murphy took advantage of the space created to touch down.
This heralded the worst period of the game for the Hawks. Their set scrum was under pressure and when they were penalised for turning the scrum 20 metres from their line the All Blacks, though fly-half Lieran Lewitt, shunned a kick for goal and worked the ball to centre Sam Chapman who broke through to score close to the posts. The conversion attempt was a formality to put the hosts 12-10 ahead.
The Hawks regained the lead with a Robinson penalty making the score 13-12 after 26 minutes and promised more with a break by centre Ed Yarnton and a move involving Matt Payne which died with a forward pass.
The game swung the All Blacks way on the cusp of the half-time break when a passing movement in midfield by the Hawks was abruptly ended when the ball was ripped from their possession in the centre and turned into a run to the Hawks line. From a resulting ruck flanker James Salter forced his way over which with Lewitts conversion restored the lead to the All Backs at half-time to 19-13.
The turning point of the game came five minutes after the restart when the Hawks took the hosts by surprise by taking a tapped penalty 20 metres on the right. This was quickly moved to the left where with space the wing Owen used his pace and guile to outwit six of the home defenders to touch down under the posts 75 metres later for his second try of the game. With Robinsons conversion the Hawks took the lead to 20-19.
The Hawks were still having to defend stoutly and lost their lead after 68 minutes when they gave away a penalty at a scrum in front of their posts giving the All Blacks a 22-20 advantage with a little over 10 minutes remaining.
The Hawks, using the strength of their replacements and their superior fitness, finished the game the stronger and took the lead with a penalty after 70 minutes after a catch and surge down the left by substitute flanker Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas, on his debut, was followed by another Robinson penalty.
The remainder of the game was played in and about the All Blacks 22 and their desperate tired defence led to a series of three further penalties, all converted by Robinson from metres from narrow angles.
Henley Hawks: 15 Tom Allen, 14 Xavier Andre (George Eastwell, 40 mins), 13 Ed Yarnton, 12 Simon Perry, 11 Lloyd Owen, 10 Will Robinson, 9 Mark Bruce, 1 Dave Manning, 2 Nathan Tailor (Stuart Philpott, 40 mins), 3 James Litchfield, 4 Dave Clements, 5 Matt Payne, 6 Tom Hall, 7 Ryan Newman, (Oskar Horskyj-Douglas, 42 mins), 8 Robbie Stapley (Will Woodward, 68 mins).