Thursday, 26 November 2020

Hawks extend lead at the top

HENLEY HAWKS secured their first away victory in four matches at Cambridge in a topsy-turvy affair that they again had to hold on for victory in the last five minutes

Cambridge 27, Henley Hawks 32

HENLEY HAWKS secured their first away victory in four matches at Cambridge in a topsy-turvy affair in which they again had to hold on for victory in the last five minutes.

As in their matches with Worthing, Chinnor and Southend, the result was in doubt until the final whistle. On this occasion the Hawks established a five point advantage with a little over a minute of the game left and managed to keep Cambridge at bay on the half-way line after they had scored a converted try to narrow the deficit from 32-20 to five.

As has been a feature in the latter part of the season the Hawks started slowly. In this game they found themselves a try down in the first minute with the brisk cold east wind a contributory factor to a fumbling knock-on from the kick-off. The resultant scrum caught the Hawks scrum cold as wing James Wigglesworth was released to score in the corner.

Such a setback was not unfamiliar to the Hawks in recent weeks but they immediately countered through their backs but wing Lloyd Owen was stopped by a try saving tackle.

The home side?s tackling was a feature of their game but they were soon staggered when scrum-half Tom Whiteley had a clearance kick charged down at the base of a scrum 30 metres out. Hawks fly-half James Comben was quick to seize the resultant ricochet and strode away unopposed to score close to the corner flag which made a conversion kick into the wind more difficult.

The pace of scoring continued when Wigglesworth was again able to shrug off attempted tackles to score his second try 10 minutes into the game and the visitors were now 13-5 in arrears after 11 minutes.

This pace was not maintained and the Hawks now had the majority of possession with the game played mainly in Cambridge?s half and it was not possible to turn these advantages into tries. This was because although they were prepared to use both forwards and backs in attacking modes they found it difficult to break through an obdurate defence. They also found that the sticky mud of the playing surface was taking the edge off their pace.

The mould was broken almost on the stroke of half-time when from a scrum on the home 22 scrum-half Mark Bruce, who enjoyed a steady game after a long break from first team service, looped away and with an accurate pass, gave room for Piers O?Conor, up from fullback on the wing, to find space to use his pace to reduce the Cambridge lead to 13-10.

The Hawks were soon disillusioned if they thought that this topsy-turvy affair was now going to go in their favour. Not for the first time this season they failed to command the restart kick and Cambridge, in possession, swept down the left through what was shadow tackling for fullback James Stokes to burst through, sell a dummy and send scrum-half Whiteley under the posts for a converted try to make the score 20-10.

This setback was soon countered by the Hawks demanding possession, turning over in a ruck and driving play by Oscar Hirskyj-Douglas resulted in the number eight?s eighth try of the season which was converted by Comben. This was followed a few minutes later with Cambridge prop Matthew Worrall-Clare being despatched to the sin bin as the Hawks pressure began to take its toll. Comben converted the penalty awarded from in front of the posts.

The Hawks were now level at 20-20. Although they lost one set scrum to the depleted home pack their dominance was soon evident when they drove prop Dave Manning over to give the Hawks the lead, 20-25, for the first time in the game. They strove to increase their lead by using their backs and were unlucky that Conor twice lost possession as he went to break through.

It was left to the forwards to execute the best conceived try of the game when they set up a driving maul over 40 metres which had the home pack in retreat despite the efforts of big number eight Steve Hipwell to stop it. The only way they found to do this was to halt it illegally for which the referee awarded a penalty try which was converted by Comben who then also added a penalty goal for a yellow card which sent prop James Fish off the field.

The Hawks, now leading 32-20, believed they were home and dry but Cambridge thought otherwise. The hosts broke away on their own 10 metre line and a dummy by fullback James Stokes sent Joe Collingham away to score under the posts which with the conversion by Boshoff reduced the deficit to five points.

The hosts then immediately gained possession and again threatened to break away. Desperate Hawks tackling halted this and when Bruce was put in possession he calmly kicked the ball into touch on the halfway line to hail the final whistle.

With Dorking drawing away at Launceston the Hawks now have an eight point lead over them at the top of National Division 2 South having played one game more.

Henley Hawks: 15 Piers O?Conor, 14 Lloyd Owen, 13 Ed Yarnton, 12 George Eastwell (Xavier Andre, 79 mins), 11 Jake Randall, 10 James Comben, 9 Mark Bruce, 1 Hugo Milford-Scott (Jimmy Litchfield, 44 mins), 2 Stuart Philpott, 3 Dave Manning, 4 Dave Clements (Matt Payne, 79 mins), 5 Will Woodward (Jake O?Leary, 67 mins), 6 Matt Payne (Robbie Stapley, 44 mins), 7 Gus Jones (Tom Hall, 59 mins), 8 Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas.

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