HENLEY HAWKS produced a much improved display on a heavy pitch at Blackheath on Saturday and for most of
HENLEY HAWKS produced a much improved display on a heavy pitch at Blackheath on Saturday and for most of the game, matched the intensity of the home side.
However, an inability to convert basic skills at crucial times again came back to haunt them although in the end, they can consider themselves a little unfortunate not to return home with at least a bonus point.
In fact, the Hawks led for nearly an hour, frustrating their high flying hosts with a dogged defence that was far more effective than in recent weeks.
The first 10 minutes was frantic and open as both sides tried to assert their authority. The Hawks utilised this superbly in the opening exchanges, scoring two early tries.
From a quick penalty inside their own half, Connor Murphy started a flowing move, catching the home defence off guard.
Centre Liam O’Neill finished things off with an easy run and Murphy converted to give the Hawks the early advantage.
Blackheath responded, capitalising on a poor line out from the Hawks on half way and eventually home skipper Markus Burcham crossed for a try, converted by Blackheath outside half Freddie Gabbitass to level the scores.
With Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas and Tom Hall to the fore, Henley replied with a try from wing forward Rob Bell who burrowed over from close range.
The conversion was missed but the Hawks went close again soon afterwards when a counterattack involving James Davies and Xavier Andre was halted in the home 22 and Henley were penalised in the process.
Blackheath gradually began to dominate both possession and territory and appeared to get quicker and stronger in their attacking play.
However, excellent defence from the Hawks kept the home side at bay and they entered the half-time interval with a slender but unexpected lead.
The first 20 minutes of the second half saw the Blackheath side totally impose themselves on the game and they scored enough points during this period to seal the game.
As the Hawks struggled to cope with the home sides renewed intensity, Gabbitass reduced the arrears for the home side with a penalty.
Just on the hour, the Blackheath pack then won another penalty after a massive drive at a Henley scrum much to the joy of the home faithful.
From the resulting line-out, wing forward Dave Allen was driven over to give the home side the lead for the first time. Gabbitass converted.
With Gabbitass adding another penalty for an unexplained infringement at a scrum, it looked as though Blackheath would run away with the game.
However, the Hawks rallied brilliantly with Hirskyj-Douglas outstanding but accuracy and decision-making in the final third of the pitch were lacking as they have been for most of the season.
Three five metre line outs were lost in quick succession ending any hopes of the Hawks gaining something from the game. Blackheath’s defence held and they were somewhat relieved to be awarded a penalty in the final minute which Gabbitass converted to seal the match.
Despite not gaining a vital bonus point, the commitment shown by the Hawks cannot be faulted and for long periods they more than matched a team challenging at the top of the league.