Resolute Hawks put an end to league leaders’ record
HENLEY HAWKS maintained their impressive unbeaten home record on Saturday and in doing so ended National Division 1 league leaders
HENLEY HAWKS maintained their impressive unbeaten home record on Saturday and in doing so ended National Division 1 league leaders Doncaster Knights’ unbeaten record, writes Noel Armstead.
Going into the match Doncaster, relegated from the Championship last season, had won all their games this season with try bonus points in each game, while the Hawks sat in eighth place having gained promotion from National Division 2 South.
Against the odds the Hawks pulled off a narrow victory as they were remorseless in their tackling and were astute in changing their normal pattern of play.
The large home crowd of more than 600 did not see the Hawks running the ball back at the opposition from anywhere and everywhere on the park.
With Will Robinson, on loan from London Welsh, they were able to use the kicking skills he demonstrated when with the Hawks for the second half of last season to keep the game in the Knights’ half as much as possible.
The foundation of their game was their pack which is more than holding its own at the high level of play demanded in Division 1 and in this game against a full-time professional outfit.
Once more the driving play in the mauls of their forwards was important in keeping Doncaster’s possession limited.
The Knights’ backs were fast but error prone and it was the award of a penalty for back chat by referee Philip Davies after six minutes which enabled Henley to take the lead with a kick by Robinson from 35 metres, 10 from the touchline, that put the Hawks in front.
This lead of three points looked as if it would be short lived when Doncaster’s right wing Paul Jarvis touched down in the corner only to be recalled for a foot in touch. This was the most decisive break made by the Knights all afternoon.
The Hawks forwards were able to force their way out of their 22 by some impressive carries by prop Alex Penny and a burst of 25 metres by lock Josh McNally. The Hawks were able to establish a presence in the Doncaster half thanks to Robinson and he increased their lead after 20 minutes with a second penalty from a position near to his previous successful kick.
Later in the first half the visitors began to get useful possession and it was then the Hawks defence was tested but not found wanting.
The Knights were frustrated in their attempts to score by unrelenting tackling by the whole Hawks side but again, as in the previous week, it was hooker Ant Brennan who was imperious, cutting down the opposition relentlessly.
Eventually centre Bevon Armitage forced his way over with five minutes of the half remaining. With the score at 6-5, as the conversion was missed, the Hawks were now desperate not to surrender their lead before half-time. This they failed in the dying seconds when replacement back row Adam Kettle was driven over for a second unconverted try.
Doncaster had played out the first half with their back row disrupted by injury to number seven Michael Hills, after eight minutes, and flanker Phil Eggleshaw, after 28 minutes, having to be replaced.
In contrast to recent games, the Hawks started the second half well and their forwards began to hold sway. This was so in the set scrums despite the Knights put-ins on occasion deviating from the middle of the tunnel. It was their driving mauls that were going to be decisive.
The score that was to decide the outcome of the game came when a penalty to touch was caught and driven from 30 metres out and could not be halted. This resulted in the arch smuggler of the ball from such drives, Robbie Stapley, scoring after 51 minutes.
It seemed that further scores would settle the outcome but it was not to be. Although Doncaster were in possession for much of the remaining period in their anxiety to score their game began to lose shape and it appeared that successful penalties were going to be their means of taking the lead to win the game.
In the last 30 minutes the Hawks defence held firm but in the process leaked four penalty goals awarded from positions, averaging 35-40 metres from the posts.
The responsibility for the first two was given to fly-half Paul Roberts, their regular kicker, who had failed to convert their two first half tries and then the remaining two to replacement wing Elliot Davies. All four were sent wide.
Doncaster used their remaining replacements, British Lion prop Darren Morris and former Hartpury College scrum-half Brad Field in the second half but to no avail as they did not threaten the Hawks line in the second half.
For the Hawks this result indicates that they have become firmly established in Division 1 and in so doing kept their unbeaten record at Dry Leas since January 2012 intact.