Saturday, 28 November 2020

Hawks hold off Hartpury for vital points

HENLEY HAWKS pulled off a narrow win in a pulsating promotion clash away to rivals Hartpury College last Saturday.

HENLEY HAWKS pulled off a narrow win in a pulsating promotion clash away to rivals Hartpury College last Saturday.

Four points was the biggest margin between the sides during the match and the result was in doubt until the last seconds of the game.

From the start it was evident that defence was going to rule the nature of the game and the first 40 minutes, on balance, was in the home side’s favour.

The Hawks found it difficult to get any quality quick possession. Most of the game at this stage was spent in the Hawks half and the referee found that the laws of the game were being flaunted to such an extent that four penalties were shared between the sides in as many minutes.

These were not in kickable positions but when the Hawks mounted pressure on the home defence for the first time a penalty in front of the posts gave Will Robinson the chance to put the visitors ahead. He was in good place kicking form, narrowly missing only one attempt throughout the game.

Although Hartpury had the majority of possession they could not make any significant progress against a defence who to a man tackled unerringly.

The only time there was a break came from the ever alert Hawks’ scrum half Luke Carter who caught the Hartpury defence napping with a 40-metre break from halfway which they snuffed out with difficulty.

Hartpury had established themselves in the Hawks half for the first quarter of the game as they had the edge in the set scrums and a dominance in the line-outs where their lock Elliot Stooke had control. However, this was weakened when he was awarded a yellow card for a technical offence at the beginning of the second half.

The Hawks were kept in the game by the trusty boot of Robinson who matched penalties by Hartpury’s fullback Craig Jackson, who equalised Robinson’s first effort, and again after replacement Luke Cozens had dropped a goal after 25 minutes to make the score 6-6. Jackson’s second penalty success nudged the College ahead 9-6 at half-time.

Hartpury’s attacks were repelled by clearance kicks by Robinson rather than by any attempt to run the ball when on the back foot and Cozen’s kicking penned the Hawks in their own territory in the first 40 minutes.

The Hawks play had been subdued by a determined Hartpury heavyweight defence.

From the start of the second half they sprang into action and began to run any worthwhile ball forward.

Richard Briggs and Xavier Andre, backed by centres Martin Nutt and Tom Allen, began to test the home backs and fullback Liam O’Neill was prepared to run the ball back at Hartpury with some success although on one occasion he became isolated.

Hawks’ half backs Robinson and Carter probed away making occasional half openings. The forwards upped the pace of their game with Dave Clements making a 20-metre break and the hard-working back row Matt Payne, Will Woodward and Robbie Stapley testing the Hartpury tackling.

It was the combination of forwards and backs that led to the only try of the match. Robinson broke through 10 metres out and gathered his kick ahead. This set up a series of drives for the line and eventually Carter broke the shackles of the College defence for Robinson to convert with a studied kick against a tricky wind. The Hawks now had some breathing space with a 16-9 lead following Robinson’s third penalty after 45 minutes.

Hartpury began to counterattack and although not able to create a try-scoring opportunity crept closer with Jackson’s third penalty of the match after 55 minutes.

As the half progressed the Hawks, following a kick to the corner, established themselves on Hartpury’s five metres line and drove hard for a second try but seven times their attempts to seal the game were repelled.

At 16-12 ahead, after a further penalty by Jackson, there were now 15 minutes to play. Hartpury began to press the Hawks defence which held but then was under the cosh when in defending Stapley prevented the release of the ball and was given a yellow card. The Hartpury pack, their chief weapon in attack, now sensed that they could win the game but they were knocked back immediately when replacement lock James Winterbottom stole their ball in a line out on the five-metre line to be followed by a heel against the head.

The minutes ticked away to full time as Hartpury threw everything into a handing movement down the left. Jackson was put through two metres from the line with full time showing on the scoreboard. As he dived to score he was tackled by man-of-the-match Payne who put him in touch.

Henley Hawks: 15 Liam O’Neill, 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Tom Allen, 12 Martin Nutt, 11 Richard Briggs, 10 Will Robinson, 9 Luke Carter, 1 Hugo Milford-Scott (Dai Maddocks, 65 mins), 2 Liam Dwyer, 3 Dave Manning, 4 Dave Clements, 5 Josh McNally (James Winterbottom, 65 mins), 6 Matt Payne, 7 Will Woodward, 8 Robbie Stapley. Replacements not used: Jim Hadfield, Neil Baggett.

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