HENLEY HAWKS were aware as they approached this game that it posed a hard return to
HENLEY HAWKS were aware as they approached this game that it posed a hard return to Division 1 as the hosts had finished runners-up in the last two seasons being denied promotion last season by one point by Ealing.
The Rosslyn Park ground is known as the Rock and it lived up to its name on Saturday as far as the Hawks were concerned.
This was the first league game to be played on the Â £1million G4 surface and it certainly was of benefit for the Park’s fast and open style of play. The Hawks found it hard to counter this in a game of incidents.
The Park took the lead after four minutes when a clearance kick from the Hawks 22 was charged down and Mark Kohler, formerly with Plymouth Albion, Â followed through to touch down for Scott Sheldon to convert.
Unfortunately that was his last action in the game for he thereupon suffered a broken ankle.
Unperturbed by this accident Park immediately went further ahead when scrum-half Jack Gash broke through to touch down for replacement fly-half Sam Stanley to convert.
This was his first of three successful conversions. The Hawks were able to recover from a staggering start and took play to the Park 22.
They enjoyed sufficient pressure to threaten to score and did so after 17 minutes when they took the ball against the head from a scrum on the 10-metre line and exploited this for No.8 Robbie Stapley to touch down.
At this stage the Hawks were well in the game but were unable to break through a robust defence.
However the home side were able to develop a handling movement which led to Dave Vincent (11) squeezing over in the corner to make the half-time score 19-7.
The Hawks suffered a further blow on the verge of the break when fullback Eliott Cox had to be assisted from the field having received a blow in a heavy tackle.
The Hawks started the second half without skipper Dave Clements who was given a yellow card by referee Phil Davies in the closing stages of the first.
The Park from the restart began to move the ball at pace and took full advantage of their aggressive play to create problems for the stretched Hawks defence. In 17 minutes they scored three tries through wing Adam Field, Hugo Ellis and fullback Henry Robinson.
The visitors then enjoyed their best period of play in the second 40 minutes. It was again the pack that put pressure on the home defence and this resulted in prop Tom West crossing for a hard- worked try.
Sadly for the Hawks in the build-up for this score scrum-half Connor Murphy, who had been influential in keeping the Hawks in the game, suffered an ankle ligament injury which forced him to retire.
A worrying injury for the Hawks as Murphy has only just come back from a broken ankle towards the end of last Â season.
Following this incident the Park closed the game out with four tries in 12 minutes as their dominance in running the ball at every opportunity began to tell, while the Hawks tackling became increasingly ineffective against well-supported running.
Field added his second but the most significant contribution came from replacement scrum-half Tom Whiteley who ran in a hat-trick of tries in the last 12 minutes, plus two conversions to make the final score 62-12, with the Park bagging 10 tries in total.
The Hawks will now be aware that standards have risen since they were last in Division 1 and the consequences of playing a side well equipped with strong forwards and quick backs to make the most of a G4 Â surface.
• Henley Hawks: 15 Elliott Cox (Fred Pierrepoint 40) Charlie Davey 46), 14 Andre Xavier, 13 Tom Allen, 12 Jack Bradford, 11 Liam O’Neill, 10 James Comben, 9 Connor Murphy (Robbie Stapley 63), 1 Dave Manning (Ant Brennan 75), 2 Tom Emery (Curtis Langdon 62), 3 Ant Brennan (Tom West 27, Manning 80), 4 Dave Clements (captain), 5 Jacob Albon (Fred Pierrepoint 47), 6 Julian Watkins, 7 Tom Hall, 8 Robbie Stapley Â (Sam Richardson 44).