HOSTS Henley Bulls suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of the Heathens
HOSTS Henley Bulls suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of the Heathens from South East London on Saturday.
The Bulls started and ended the match with ample ferocity and attacking intent only to get out-scored by a slick counterattacking Heathens side.
With six changes in the starting line-up from their last game and veteran Matt Payne shoring up a back row, the Bulls looked strong on their own set piece ball with captain Connor Stapley securing plenty of accurate line-out ball from hooker Ed Church. Elsewhere the front row was more than holding their own against a well drilled Heathens pack.
The Heathens defence proved tough to crack, and throughout the game when the Bulls managed to string several phases of play together, their tenacious effort to pin the hosts back proved successful and the pressure created an error strewn experience for the home side in the middle part of the game.
The first score was created when the Heathens turned the ball over just outside the Bulls’ 22 and exploited an undermanned blind-side and the visitors’ scrum half sent his side’s left wing over almost unchallenged. The Heathens failed to add the conversion.
Soon after Bulls pressure resulted in a sweetly struck penalty from Spencer Goggin who was called upon to act as fly-half after the early departure of Roddy Giles with a hamstring injury.
Lloyd Owen then put the Bulls ahead for the first time when he collected a wide pass to duck under the cover tackler and score on his wing. The angle of the conversion proved too much for Goggin.
Lloyd Owen again exploited a rare chink in the Heathens’ armour to sprint almost 60 metres up-field only to be held up short of the line.
As the Bulls pressed for more points a misguided kick to the flank was collected by the Heathens defence and their counterattack caught the hosts with a narrow defence allowing them to outstretch them and with great support they scored their second try of the game.
Matt Payne was forced off for a 20 minute spell to repair an eye wound then followed the loss of Bulls lock Josh Tonnar with a shoulder injury to be replaced by 18-year-old Harry Hunter just before half-time with the visitors leading 10-8.
During the second half the Bulls again enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and centre Tom Gardner’s direction began to pay off as the hosts pressed into Heathens territory only to be caught in midfield.
The Bulls suffered two more telling injuries to prop Harry Jackson and Ian Brown who were both forced to leave the field with shoulder injuries.
Despite a determined effort from the Bulls to regain the momentum it was the Heathens who stretched away to a 24-8 lead making the most of their turn-over possession and adding another score from a counterattack.
Stapley rallied his men for a 15 minute spell of Bulls dominance where Matt Payne, George Hayes and Iwan Davies all made inspiring inroads into the Heathens defence, eventually paying off with a late try for hooker Ed Church.