HENLEY HAWKS increased their lead at the top of National Division 2 South on Saturday with victory against Clifton
Henley Hawks 32, Clifton 17
HENLEY HAWKS increased their lead at the top of National Division 2 South on Saturday with victory against Clifton.
On a rainy blustery day at Dry Leas the visitors' large pack made the most of the conditions from the kick-off but it was the hosts who took the lead after three minutes.
The Hawks were put into an attacking position deep into Clifton territory by a sharp bursting run by right wing Xavier Andre. From a scrum within 10 metres of the Clifton line scrum-half Connor Murphy's attempt to get through to the try line was held up. The Hawks' pack were now in a position to put in a driving maul and hooker Stuart Philpott grounded the ball to give the Hawks a 7-0 lead with James Comben's successful conversion attempt.
Any chance that the Hawks would build on this early lead was quickly dismissed.
This game was destined to be a ding dong affair for Clifton swung on to the attack and a carefully constructed move down the centre split the Hawks defence and wing Luke Blizzard took advantage to drive through a gap to score close to the posts for fullback Charles Foley to add the extra points to level the sore at 7-7.
The Hawks counter atttacked and were able to find gaps in the visitors defence that centres Fred Pierrepoint and Ed Yarnton, with a side stepping run, had a chance to put wing Lloyd Owen unmarked on overlaps only to spurn the opportunities to do so by looking to score themselves.
The Hawks fell behind 10-7 after 15 minutes when Foley kicked a penalty from 40 metres with the help of the following wind. The Hawks were kept well into the game by their back row of Matt Payne, Gus Jones and Robbie Stapely by driving runs, carries and effective rucking.
More and more the pack were to send Clifton back with their controlled well directed driving mauls and an effective one closing in on the visitors' line led to Dave Manning being forced over for an unconverted try which gave the Hawks a 12-10 lead.
Just before half-time Clifton number eight Alistare Bone picked up and dived over to give the visitors a 17-12 lead after Foley had converted from the touch line.
The Hawks emerged from the break showing determination to make the most of the following wind and to play the game in the Clifton half. The effort of the forwards in line out ruck and maul led by skipper Dave Clements, Will Woodward and Robbie Stapley gave the backs the ball they could use to press for further scoring opportunities. This had its reward eight minutes into the half when the ball was swept across the backs to right wing Andre who from 20 metres out broke tackles to touch down at the corner flag. The scores were now tied a 17-17.
At this stage Clifton were still able to counter attack but the Hawks now used new props Hugo Milford-Scott and Jimmy Litchfield to build on the good work of Manning and Tom West, who had been impressive with his carries.
The next scoring opportunity came in the shape of a penalty 10 metres from the half-way line. This was entrusted to Murphy whose capacity for converting long distance goals led to him being nominated for the kick which he converted with a clearance over the cross bar by millimetres.
The Hawks now had their noses in front at 20-17 again with 20 minutes playing time remaining.
The hosts were now pinned back in their own territory much of the time deep in their 22 and they found it difficult to break the hold that the visitors had on possession. They tackled their big opponents low and hard reducing the advantage they had in body weight. The visitors were held up over their line more than once. Clearance kicks were returned with interest but on one occasion Owen danced his way by means of his agile foot work from behind his own line to the 22.
The Hawks' superior fitness eventually began to tell and with 10 minutes of playing time left they were able to put Clifton back into their own 22 and again a controlled driving maul led the way to a score. It was replacement flanker Tom Hall who used his strength to burrow over to score under the post for Comben to convert to ease the Hawks lead to 27-17.
This was soon followed by a well judge kick to the corner by Comben. From a resultant line out from a penalty, the Hawks put on a drive for the line for Payne to be able to force his way through for a try to make the score 32-17.
The win saw the Hawks stretched their lead over their nearest rivals Dorking to nine points as they failed to secure a bonus point in beating Cambridge 16-15.
Henley Hawks: 15 Jake Randall, 14 Xavier Andre, 13 Fred Pierrepoint, 1 Ed Yarnton, 1 Lloyd Owen, 10 James Comben, 9 Connor Murphy (Mark Bruce, 80 mins), 1 Tom West (Jimmy Lichfield, 46 mins), 2 Stuart Philpott, 3 Dave Manning (Hugo Milford-Scott, 46 mins), 4 Dave Clements, 5 Will Woodward (Matt Payne, 75 mins), 6 Matt Payne (Tom Hal,l 60 mins), 7 Gus Jones (Jack Willis, 80 mins), 8 Robbie Stapley.