HENLEY HAWKS moved 13 points clear at the top of National Division 2 South with just six matches remaining last Saturday
Taunton Titans 28, Henley Hawks 34
HENLEY HAWKS moved 13 points clear at the top of National Division 2 South with just six matches remaining last Saturday.
Whilst the table-toppers overcame third-placed Taunton Titans in Somerset, second placed Dorking were held to a draw away at Canterbury.
The margin of victory does not reflect one of the best performances of the season by the Hawks, particularly away from home. This game was expected to be one of the most important obstacles to their avowed ambition to gain promotion to Division 1.
The game was played on a drying surface affected by a strong cold northerly breeze which the Hawks faced from kick off.
It seemed that the visitors would be pinned in their own half for the first 40 minutes which would be meat and drink to the accurate place kicking of Taunton?s fullback Gary Kingdom, the second best kicker on the league. After just four minutes this was an accurate assessment when he kicked his side into the lead with a kick from 35 metres.
However, it was evident from the restart that the Hawks were not going to sit back and be bombarded by Taunton. Their forwards immediately showed they had the ability to take the game to the Titans testing their defence and finding it wanting, especially by a burst by the Hawks? number eight Robbie Stapley who broke through some flimsy tackling.
After 20 metres he found scrum half Connor Murphy at his elbow and with a well timed pass sent the number nine away unopposed to score under the posts which he converted to make the score 7-3.
The Hawks were keen to keep the ball in hand and were averse to kicking into the head wind. In contrast the home side had to rely on the accurate kicking of Kingdom to keep tabs on the Hawks lead and this he did with a further penalty to make the score 7-6.
The Hawks responded with a further foray and again progressed into the Titans? 22 and beyond where centre Tom Allen showed that he had not lost any of his guile when he weaved through a hesitant and bewildered defence to touch down between the posts for Murphy to convert to increase the Hakws lead to 14-6.
Although the Hawks were still ready to keep ball in hand to test the home defence for the first time the Titans pressed the Hawks? defence and kept the pressure up on the visitors, aided by the enforced withdrawal with a hamstring injury of hooker Stuart Phillpott which disorganised his sides control in set scrums and line outs.
The Taunton pack drove home their advantage with a driving maul which resulted in hooker Jon Gatford scoring a try converted by Kingdom who took advantage of another penalty, close to the post, to give the Titans a 16-14 lead at half-time.
The Hawks were justified in believing that this did not reflect the run of play for the half as they had played attacking rugby effectively for much of the 40 minutes.
Fortunes changed immediately at the start of the second half when they put the Titans? line under such pressure and an attempted clearance kick was seized upon Hawks? flyhalf James Comben. The visitors then calmly and patiently put the ball through five pairs of hands for skipper and lock Dave Clements to cross the line for Murphy to add the conversion and put the Hawks 21-16 ahead.
The visitors were now beginning to dominate the home pack and none did more towards this, and later with some sterling defensive work, than the back row of Gus Jones, Hirskyj-Douglas and Stapley aided by lock Matt Payne which was instrumental in paving the way for prop Dave Manning?s seventh try of the season. With another conversion by Murphy followed by two penalties this was a testament to the Hawks control of the game they now led 34-16.
The Hawks had used the following wind effectively to pin the Titans in their won half though the kicking of their half backs and in particular Comben.
The game then swung away from them for in the 62nd when Murphy was sent from the field with a yellow card. This could be judged to be a harsh punishment by referee Tom Davies for although Murphy had laid on the ball preventing its release this was over 40 metres from the Titans line and no imminent score was in view.
The Hawks, starved of possession already by the injury to their regular hooker, were now finding it difficult to clear their lines. Almost inevitably they illegally stopped a maul by the Titans forwards and a penalty try resulted, converted by Kingdom, to make the score 34-23 in favour of the Hawks with 10 minutes of playing time left.
Although Murphy rejoined play it was difficult to relieve the pressure and a clearance kick by Comben was charged down and centre Fraser Fredom touched down to make the score 34-28 with two minutes of playing time left.
The Hawks kept their line intact for this period . On this occasion, like many others this season, the game was decided in the last minutes of play.
Henley Hawks: 15 Ed Yarnton , 14 Lloyd Owen, 13 Tom Allen, 12 George Eastwell, 11 Jake Randall, 10 James Comben, 9 Connor Murphy (Fred Pierrepoint, 31-40 mins), 1 Dave Manning, 2 Stuart Phillpott (Tom Hall, 26 mins), 3 Jimmy Litchfield (Hugo Milfor-Scott), 4 Dave Clements (Jake O?Leary, 53 mins), 5 Matt Payne (Will Woodward 68), 6 Oskar Hirskyj Douglas, 7 Gus Jones (Payne, 70 mins), 8 Robbie Stapley.