Sunday, 29 November 2020

Relegated top-flight side ease to comfortable victory

HENLEY HAWKS went down to defeat when they renewed rivalry with London Welsh after a break of several years in

HENLEY HAWKS went down to defeat when they renewed rivalry with London Welsh after a break of several years in their last pre-season game at Dry Leas last Saturday, writes Noel Armstead.

Both sides were looking to assess the strength of their teams as they adjust to new levels in their league competitions, London Welsh having just been relegated from the Premier League and the Hawks gaining promotion to National Division 1.

They will be a league apart with the Welsh in full time professional company and the Hawks in what is a semi-professional league.

It was therefore not surprising that the visitors ran out comfortable winners in terms of the final result in a game which was keenly contested to the extent that the Hawks had almost an equal amount of possession.

The hosts did not have such a robust set of forwards for the visitors held sway in the set scrums and were effective in mauls and difficult to contain when driving from quality line out possession which was the one area in which the Hawks disappointed.

At times the London Welsh backs were difficult to contain when given space to use their pace and this was particularly true when they introduced Joe Ajuwa on the right wing. Not that the Hawks backs were outclassed and it was they that took the Welsh by surprise scoring and taking the lead after three minutes. Left wing Alan Awcock put in a powerful 25 metres run into the Welsh 22 where the alert Liam O’Neill was up from fullback to take his off load and go over for an unconverted try.

A stunned Welsh side then got worthwhile possession for the first time and worked a try for number seven Mike Dunbee which was converted, the first of three, by Scottish international Gordon Ross.

The strength of the Welsh back row and its finishing power was emphasised by a brace of tries by Mitch Lee later in the half.

The Hawks pursued their traditional game of running the ball at every opportunity and early in the game scrum-half Luke Carter was stretching the Welsh back row as well as setting half-back partner James Comben away to spread the ball wide and a couple of exciting runs by wing Xavier Andre certainly tested the visitors’ defence.

The maturity and experience of the Welsh backs showed in their ability to finish and skipper Tom May illustrated this when he scored under the posts. Four converted tries gave the visitors a 28-5 lead at half-time.

The beginning of the second half clearly showed the difference in depth of resources between the two sides when the Welsh were able to call upon a second squad playing in an entirely different strip.

In contrast the Hawks relied on a steady stream of replacements which, for the purposes of this game, could be used on a tactical basis.

Josh McNally, who had created some inroads in the visitors’ defence was rested for a time and there was the welcome sight of number eight Robbie Stapley returning from injury to be able to play for a quarter.

The Hawks enjoyed a period of dominance in and around the Welsh 22 for 10 minutes or so being held up over the line twice after wing Rhys Crane and Ajuwa had increased the London Welsh lead to 33-5. This ended with the visitors breaking away up field for number eight Ollie Stedman to be driven over for a try emphasising the strength and fitness of the Welsh side. The scoring was completed by a conversion by Will Robinson.

Henley Hawks: Dai Maddocks, 2 Liam Dwyer, 3 Alex Penny, 4 Dave Clements, 5 Josh McNally, 6 Matt Payne, 7 Ryan Long, 8 Will Woodward, 9 Luke Carter, 10 James Comben, 11 Alan Awock, 12 Tommy Allen, 13 Martin Nutt, 14 Xavier Andre, 15 Liam O’Neill. Replcements (all used): Hugo Milford Scott, Ed Church, Danny Wells, Adi Gillespie, Neil Baggett, James Bloxham, Mark Bruce, Rob Stapley, Tom Haynes.

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