Friday, 27 November 2020

Quarter of Henley's population see Hawks take title

A RECORD crowd watched Henley Rugby Club clinch the National 2 South title.

A RECORD crowd watched Henley Rugby Club clinch the National 2 South title.

The Hawks triumphed 55-27 in their final-day showdown with Worthing Raiders Rugby Club and secure automatic promotion to National 1.

An attendance of 3,270 - a league and club record - saw the Raiders race into an early 7-0 lead at Dry Leas but Henley quickly overturned the deficit to lead 28-10 at half-time.

The home side continued its dominance in the second half to record eight tries and one penalty score during the match.

Head coach Nigel Dudding, who has been involved with the club for more than 40 years, including 300 games as a player, said it was an ?unbelievable? occasion.

He said he had received a lot of congratulatory messages from people in the town as well as ex-players based all over the world.

?It?s been absolutely fantastic and we?re delighted with the achievement,? he said.

?For the league to go down to the wire like it did really showed the resilience of both sides to hang out until the last moment.

?To get the turnout we had was phenomenal and there?s a huge sense of relief that we are where we wanted to be.?

Following the game, Hawks players hugged each other and formed a huddle in which they chanted.

Fans stayed until well after the final whistle to watch the trophy presentation and Dudding praised both sets of fans for creating a showpiece atmoshphere.

He said: ?The role of the town was just superb. About a quarter of the population of Henley was there, which is a remarkable feat.

?I hope we can get larger numbers coming down next year because it will help enormously.?

Dudding thanked the supporters who have followed their team far and wide this season, adding: ?Since the momentum began to come with us this year they?ve travelled to the likes of Hartpury, Shelford and Canterbury.

?It?s been a really good testament to the good feeling in the club.?

Captain Martin Nutt said: ?For everyone in the club, considering how much hard work has gone in on and off the field, it?s a great reward for everyone.

?It was just nice that playing our style of rugby got us a very good win against a very good team and it?s great on so many levels.?

Director of rugby Mike Poulson said there had been a ?huge amount of enthusiasm? around the club to push for promotion to National 1 after being out of the division for five years.

He said: ?The accomplishment of getting promoted has been a tremendous thing for the club but also in the style of rugby we have played has really captured the imagination of a lot of people.

?We?ve had so much positive feedback about that. I really think Henley should be in National 1 because that?s what we?re set up for but no one has any God-given right to play at that level.

?You have to earn the right to play there and more than anything I?m really pleased to get the club back to that level.?

Mr Poulson said the achievement was the culmination of a three-year project and praised the work of Steve Barnes, who was head coach for two years before resigning last summer.

He said the club was built on solid foundations in which the coaching staff was mainly made up of ?significant? former players who could tap into its ethos.

?One of the things that really contributed to the success and the way we play is that we?ve got a coaching team who have all got a really good understanding and affinity with the club.

?Some of the fundamental things are what is important going forward and we don?t forget that this is what made us successful.

?We must use those as foundations for what to do in National 1, where there?s going to be some great fixtures for the club next year.?

Mr Poulson said a gate of more than 3,000 spectators boosted the club?s finances and its infrastructure.

He said the bar ran out of several brands of beer despite stocking up more for the occasion.

The Hawks have drawn in big crowds for games against Bedford and London Welsh in previous years but Mr Poulson, who joined Henley in 1985, felt it was a potentially bigger occasion on Saturday.

?Nigel and I have been around the club for a long time and I can?t remember a game that really generated as much excitement,? he said.

?The Bedford game probably comes closest because we needed to win to stay in the second tier but the feeling was more of relief afterwards whereas on Saturday it was euphoria.

?Having that bonus at the end of the season of a game that got postponed from a cold March day where we would have got 400 to 500 people to getting a title decider in the last game on a summer?s day is a huge difference to our budget.?

Mr Poulson said the goal now was for the Hawks to reach their potential and be competitive in the third tier.

?I?ve got no doubt whatsoever we can stay up and I think it?s a natural league for us to be in,? he said.

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