TWO late penalties from scrum half Connor Murphy ensured Henley Hawks maintained their nine point lead at the top of National 2 South after a pulsating encounter at Old Elthamians on Saturday
Old Elthamians 18, Henley Hawks 23
TWO late penalties from scrum half Connor Murphy ensured Henley Hawks maintained their nine point lead at the top of National 2 South after a pulsating encounter at Old Elthamians on Saturday.
It was a determined effort from the league leaders who again had to come from behind to win against a highly committed Old Boys side who pushed the Hawks all the way to dig deep into their character. The Hawks passed with flying colours.
On an exposed pitch, the opening exchanges were frantic with the hosts? larger forwards dominating proceedings and stifling any hopes the Hawks had of stamping their authority on the match.
The Old Boy?s outside half Tom White controlled things using the breeze by kicking cleverly and keeping his side going forward.
The Hawks tried to counter attack with Connor Murphy and Freddie Pierrepoint prominent but they were often frustrated by dropped passes and losing possession. After another effort to break out of their own half Henley were penalised for not releasing after 13 minutes and the Old Boys opened the scoring with a penalty from White.
The hosts were enjoying plenty of possession and territory and scored the game?s first try shortly afterwards. The backs linked well and a chip forward allowed Edwards to win the race to the touchdown wide out. White converted and added another penalty from wide out to give the home side a 13-0 lead.
The Hawks defended well and slowly but surely began to match their opponents? physicality and put pressure of their hosts.
The home side struggled in the scrums and were penalised a number of times for collapsing in the first half. From a resulting penalty line out the Hawks used their very effective driving maul to score their first try with Jimmy Litchfield emerging as the scorer to leave the hosts 13-5 ahead at the break.
The Hawks started the second half positively and again the driving maul was a useful weapon but often resulted in nothing as the referee?s interpretation of the laws seemed to ignore the home side?s methods of trying to stop them and frustration was evident from the visitors.
With the Hawks enjoying more possession, scrum half Murphy fed Oscar Herskyj-Douglas to break down the short side. Replacement prop Dave Manning broke clear to scamper 15 metres to score. Murphy converted to reduce the arrears to one point.
The Old Boys hit straight back when White again exposed the Hawks out wide with a cross kick that allowed Renford Bennett to collect on the bounce to score in the corner.
Henley now began to take control as the home side began to tire and Matt Payne, Hirskyj-Douglas and Manning all enjoyed forays into the Old Boy?s territory.
Following a scrum win against the head for the Hawks, centre Ed Yarnton made a break and from the following ruck and a try looked on but a pass was intercepted by Old Boy?s centre Christian Cook who ran half the length of the pitch before kicking ahead but Henley wing Lloyd Owen covered well to save a certain score.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, another driving maul from the Henley forwards resulted in a third try. A drive of 20 metres was stopped illegally by the home side but Murphy picked up the loose ball to dart over. With an Old Boy being yellow carded, the Hawks were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty try, especially as the conversion was missed.
There were just four minutes remaining when Henley took the lead for the first time in the game with a Murphy penalty following another collapsed scrum. He added another two minutes later to seal the game.
This was a gutsy performance from a team that has dominated the division from the first week of the season and each opponent is now looking at their game against Henley as their own chance to knock down the league leaders.