Henley Hawks were looking to return to winning ways against a Canterbury side lying fifth from bottom in the league. They achieved this the hard way in a game which produced nine tries in all of which five were scored by the Hawks and four by a Canterbury side who were in with a chance to win the game in the dying minutes and for the third successive match lost a game close to the end.
After a sticky start the Hawks recovered from being twice in arrears to score four tries which gave them a 24-10 half-time lead. Canterbury took the game to them from the start and the Hawks defence was full stretched by some determined running by the visitors back row and were quickly finding Peter Kelly (No.7) a thorn in their side. However the Hawks tackling dealt with these forays and Canterbury had to rely on a penalty, for off side, from scrum-half Nick Dangerfield, to put them in the lead.
The Hawks stung by this reverse sprung into life and it was their forwards who gave them some good ball from a set scrum when they rolled the Canterbury eight. This was exploited by Danny Wells in particular who opened the Canterbury defence with a strong run and then put Neil Baggett away to thrust for the line to score.
James Comben was unable to convert this try from a wide angle and the Hawks lead of 5-3 was over turned ten minutes later when after a period spent in and about their 22 some good handling by the Canterbury backs resulted in a try for the lively Gert De Kock which with a straight forward conversion by Dangerfield put his side back in the lead 10-5.
The Hawks needed to raise their game if there was not going to be a shock result and Barty Carson did much to put them on the front foot with some impressive ball carry from the base of the scrum and maul as did Christoph Bart on the wing with strong quick sallies which Canterbury found difficult to contain.
However it was a tremendous burst of 40 metres from a maul on half-way by Tom Stradwick which produced the score that the Hawks urgently needed at this stage. The No 8 went close to the corner flag but wing Tommy Haynes was on hand to make a typical strong surge to cross for an unconverted try.
The Hawks now continued to get the ball moving amongst their backs helped by good quick distribution by scrum-half Steve Drake and it was he who made the running for the Hawks' next try when he broke free from a maul on half-way. As the defence closed in after 30 metres he found Comben in support who was put away with a well judged pass. The full back faced by his opposite number, Will Alkin, sent him the wrong way with an impressive side step before out pacing the following cover to touch down and convert to make the score 17-10.
The Hawks were now full of running and developed some good handling afer a penalty kick to the corner and an inside pass gave Tom Allen the opportunity to glide through tackles to touch down under the posts for Comben to make the half-time score 24-10. although it needed a good smothering tackle by Bart to stop Alkin on the corner flag at the other end in the last movement of the half.
The Hawks started the second half in similar vein and within three minutes a strong run by Bart put them close to the posts and flanker Adam Holloway was on hand to force his way over supported by Haynes for Comben to kick his third conversion.
Now leading 31-10 it seemed that the Hawks were set for a run away victory. However intoxicated by their free flowing game they became careless in their handling and playing loosely did not retain
possession. Canterbury were quick to take advantage and within the space of 3 minutes their left wing Matthew Robinson (the former Hawks player and Wales cap) streaked away to score two tries one of which was converted by Dangerfield. Canterbury were now full of confidence and ran the ball at the Hawks frequently. Also in the last quarter assumed some authority in the set scrums. This was bad news for the Hawks as ace try scorer flanker Peter Kelly was now threatening to score from scrum and mauls developed from line outs.
This play came to fruition when he scored his twentieth try of the season after 66 minutes to close the score to 31-27. At this stage the Hawks were reduced to 14 men as Tom Allen had been given a yellow card for not rolling away from a tackle – the first time in his rugby career that he had been so punished and it came as a complete surprise! The visitors pressed hard for a winning score shunning attempts to kick two penalties and with two minutes to go developed an overlap only for a pass to be knocked on. From the resulting scrum Carson, Hawks' man of the match, stole away and made 30 metres. With the help of a penalty and a fine kick by Comben, whose kicking out of hand was effective in this game, the Hawks finished the game just short of the Canterbury line - with much relief.
15. James Comben, 14. Christoph Bart, 13. Neil Baggett, 12. Danny Wells, (Gavin Turner 53) 11. Tommy Haynes, 10. Tom Allen, 9. Steve Drake, 1. James Hadfield, (Rowan Fuller 61) 2. Ant Brennan, 3. Alex Penny (Sam Beckett 61), 4. Tom Evans (Capt.), 5. Jeremy Giles, 6. Barty Carson, 7. Adam Holloway, 8. Tom Stradwick
Member since: 9th July 2012
Hi, We are Phil and Gill Chappell. We own the Best of Henley-on-Thames. We live in Henley so would love to hear your views and opinions about all things Henley.