Dudding preparing for next season following title win
HENLEY HAWKS boss Nigel Dudding believes the seeds of his side’s success were sowed in the dressing room after their
HENLEY HAWKS boss Nigel Dudding believes the seeds of his side’s success were sowed in the dressing room after their last loss in January.
That day the Hawks were beaten 19-15 away to mid-table Launceston but it forged a steely determination amongst the squad to win the rest of their fixtures.
The 10-game hot streak culminated in last Saturday’s 55-27 victory over Worthing Raiders in a title showdown at Dry Leas.
The Raiders had led National Division 2 South for much of the campaign but the Hawks’ eight-try win saw them leapfrog their opponents on the final day of the season and win automatic promotion to the third tier.
Dudding said: “From our point of view there’s a huge sense of relief because we’ve been building for this since we lost to Launceston.
“We made a collective agreement not to lose another game and that’s what happened. We said from the start of the season we were building a National 1 side.
“We set our stall out very clearly that we wanted to win this league. There were a couple of wobbles along the way where we thought we might have blown it but it’s league rugby where it’s a long haul.”
Henley topped the statistics charts for the most number of points scored and least conceded, while they won every game at home.
Despite both the Hawks and Worthing losing four games each, bonus points acquired from the number of tries scored was the decisive factor in the end. Dudding said: “It’s a reward for the attacking approach we’ve taken and it was also a deciding factor that we were great at home.
“It’s taken it out of the players physically. We had a few injuries and it’s about rebuilding and stepping up next season.”
The head coach was thankful his team managed to complete the job in 28 games rather than have to lock horns with the National 2 North runners-up in a play-off next week, a task which now awaits Worthing. He said: “Worthing have to do it all again next week, which will be exhausting for them. The sad thing for them is the game is away from home again and travelling in this league is difficult.”
It could have been a different story had the Hawks not recovered from conceding an early try.
Dudding attributed it to nerves as his players ran out in front of 3,270 spectators — a club and league record. He said: “We weren’t getting as much change from the loose players as we thought and there was a bit of frustration, which spilled over at times with heated exchanges.
“Once we settled down we controlled just about every aspect of the play and we knew we had the speed and set piece ability to beat them.
“We got our big runners involved and started to open up holes while our defence was pro-active. It was such a squad effort. Will Robinson got man-of-the-match but it was a 20-man game in the circumstances, playing on your ground in front of that many people.
“There was no qualm with how we won with pace, power and skill.
“Eight tries to three says it all to me. There were occasions where I thought if we have a wobbly 10 to 15 minutes Worthing could get themselves back into it but when they scored we were able to hit back again to set the rebalance.”
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.
Dudding said there were “massive celebrations” long after the game with emotions running high.
“I’ve never seen the club so busy in all the time I’ve been there,” he said. “It was made by the weather but the celebrations went on long into the night.”
Dudding could not praise the role of the fans highly enough, saying: “They were absolutely massive.
“Some players said the hair on the back of their necks stood up when they ran out. They hadn’t experienced anything like that and for some it’s the biggest crowd they had ever played in front of.
“The reception they got was just stunning with the guard of honour made by the young players as they came out.
“The pressure was obviously a thing to be concerned with but we were playing at home. Worthing sent up about 500 fans and they contributed to make the occasion what it was.
“But I think we dealt with the pressure pretty well and were determined nothing was going to get in the way.”
Dudding said the players will rest after an uncompromising campaign but planning has already begun for next season.
“There will be more travelling involved so we have to think about that and the structure of pre-season and our squad,” he said.
“We’re playing at a level up and there will be areas we’re looking to strengthen because that was one of the key things to winning this year.”
It is five years since the Hawks last played in National 1 but Dudding believes they can become an established club in the upper reaches of the division.
He said: “We’ve always said we should be a middle to top half side in National 1. If you look at the sides that have come up from our league in recent years it shows the southern league is good preparation.
“Ealing, Old Albanians and Richmond have all gone up and done well and we aim to follow them.
“We just need to look at ourselves as sustainable as a model for the future. Community involvement is a big part of the club and we never want to lose that.”
Dudding picked out the 16-12 win at third-placed Hartpury College last month as a crucial point in the campaign.
It was the one major banana skin left in the run-in and four points was the biggest margin between the sides throughout the match.
Dudding said: “We never gave up at Hartpury. Those last 15 minutes of the game were the defining moment of the season.
“When we were under the cosh with a man off the pitch the whole thing was typified by Matt Payne’s last ditch tackle in the corner to deny them a try to win.”