HENLEY HAWKS were aware that with this game they were approaching the last chance saloon as
HENLEY HAWKS were aware that with this game they were approaching the last chance saloon as defeat by a side near to the relegation zone might well scupper their chances of playing in Division 1 next season.
Despite a stronger performance after two substantial successive away defeats, and leading 17-12 at half-time, they were unable to stave off defeat to Hull Ionians who scored two tries — four in all — in the second 40 minutes.
On a cold blustery damp afternoon and before the smallest crowd of the season, the Hawks fielded one of the stronger back divisions of the campaign with Ben Palmer at fly-half, Basil Strang, after a week away, at inside centre, and new signing from London Welsh, Alan Awcock at full back. However, in contrast, they were without two of their regular back row forwards, top try-scorer Rob Bell and number eight Julian Watkins.
They were up against a near full-strength Hull side with a heavy pack which they found difficult to master in the set scrums. But the Hawks had one of their better days in the line-outs with an accurate display of throwing in by hooker Tom Emery and was their main source of possession in the set pieces.
Hull were sharp from the start and with an attack down the right they created space for their coach, Alex Crockett, the former Bath player, to touch down an unconverted try after 17 minutes.
The Hawks responded immediately and their forwards drove forward, picking and driving close to the visitors’ 22 where fly-half Ben Palmer spotted a gap in their defence to glide through to touch down near the posts to make his conversion of the try a formality.
This score gave the Hawks confidence but although play featured in the Hull half their defence was undone when wing Steve Slingsby was able to evade tackles in a run close to touch which resulted in the award of a try after referee Gareth Holsgrove had a consultation with his assistant on the touch line. Fly-half Greg Lound converted to make the score 7-12 after 34 minutes.
But the Hawks again responded quickly and mastered their pack with a drive which led to a try by Tom Hall, which was again converted by Palmer who added a penalty on the stroke of half-time to lead 17-12 at the break.
In recent games the Hawks have disappointed in not being able to turn good first-half performances into victories. Hull began with strong pressure in the set scrums to put the Hawks on the back foot and they were now backed up by the return of scrum half Aquile Smith after 10 minutes in the sin bin. This led to replacement flanker Isaac Green touching down. With a Lound conversion the Hawks were 17-19 in arrears.
The Hawks immediately returned to the attack and used their backs to put pressure on the visitors which led to the ball being switched to the advancing Strang who scored a well executed try to retake the lead. With the successful conversion by Palmer the Hawks were now five points in the lead at 24-19 with 27 minutes to go as Palmer brought his points tally to 14.
But then the game turned in Hull’s favour with them enjoying almost total possession. They moved the ball around with unfailing accuracy and added two more tries through fullback Mike Bateman and flanker Cowen, one of which was converted by Lound.
The Hawks shook off the shackles of Hull’s dominance as the final whistle loomed but the visitors held on for the win leaving the Hawks closer to the drop but having earned their first bonus point since just before Christmas.
Henley Hawks: 15 Alan Awcock, 14 Xavier Andre, 12 Liam O’Neill, 11 Jake Randall, 10 Ben Palmer, 1 Billy Moss (Manning 39 minutes), 2 Tom Emery, 3 Henry Sand (Moss 60 minutes), 4 Dave Clements, 5 Charlie Davey, 6 Iwan Davies, 7 Scott White (Langdon 60 minutes), 16 David Manning, 17 Curtis Langdon, 18 Simon Perry, 19 Fred Pierrepoint, 20 Tom Gardner.