c Nick Pitson
Henley Hawks 11 pts Doncaster Knights 10pts
Hawks Scorers: Try – Stapley Penalties – Will Robinson (2)
Doncaster: Tries – Armitage, Kettle
Doncaster relegated from the Championship last season came to Dry Leas to play a Hawks side making its way in Division 1 on gaining promotion from Division 2 (South). The Knights not only unbeaten to date had scored maximum points with try bonus points in each game.
It seemed likely that never the twain would meet with the odds definitely on another high scoring victory for Sonny Donny. In the event the Hawks pulled off a victory against the odds.
They did so because they were remorseless in their tackling but because they were astute in changing their normal pattern of play. The large home crowd, again over 600, did not see the Hawks running the ball back at the opposition from anywhere and everywhere in the park. With Will Robinson, on loan from London Welsh, they were able to use the kicking skills he demonstrated when with the Hawks for the second half of last season to keep the game in the Knights half as much as possible.
The foundation of their game was however was their pack which is more than holding it’s own at the high level of play demanded in Division 1 and in this game against a full time professional out fit. Once more the driving play in the mauls of their forwards was important in keeping Doncaster’s possession limited
The Knight’s backs were fast but error prone but it was the award of a penalty for back chat by referee Philip Davies after 6 minutes which enabled Henley to take the lead with a kick by Robinson from 35 metres, about 10 from the touch line, that put the Hawks in front. This lead of three points looked as if it would be short lived when Doncaster’s flying right wing Paul Jarvis touched down in the corner only to be recalled for a foot in touch. This was the most decisive break made by the Knights all afternoon.
The Hawks forwards were able to force their way out of their 22 by some impressive carries by prop Alex Penny and a burst of 25 metres by lock Josh McNally. The Hawks were able to establish a presence in the Doncaster thanks to Robinson and he increased their lead after 20 minutes with a second penalty from a position near to his previous successful kick.
In the second quarter of the first half the visitors began to get useful possession and it was then the Hawks defence was tested but not found wanting. The Knights were frustrated in their attempts to score by unrelenting tackling by the whole Hawks’ side but again, as in the previous week, it was hooker Ant Brennan who was imperious, cutting down the opposition relentlessly. Eventually centre Bevon Armitage forced his way over with five minutes of the half left. With the score at 6-5, as the conversion was missed, the Hawks were now desperate not to surrender their lead before half-time. They failed in the dying seconds when replacement back row Adam Kettle was driven over for a second unconverted try. Doncaster had played out the first half with their back row disrupted by injury to No. 7 Michael Hills (after 8 minutes) and flanker Phil Eggleshaw (28 minutes) having to be replaced.
However the last 20 minutes of the first half was probably Doncaster’s best phase of the game. The Hawks, in contrast to recent games, started the second half well and their forwards began to hold sway. This was so in the set scrums despite the Knights put ins on occasion deviating from the middle of the tunnel. It was however their driving mauls that were going to be decisive.
The score that was to decide the outcome of the game came when a penalty to touch was caught and driven from 30 metres out and could not be halted This resulted in the arch smuggler of the ball, from such drives, Robbie Stapley, scoring
This was after 51 minutes and it seemed that further scores would settle the outcome. It was not to be. Although Doncaster were in possession for much of the remaining period in their anxiety to score their game began to lose shape and it appeared that successful penalties were going to be their means of taking the lead to win the game.
In these last 30 minutes the Hawks defence held firm but in the process they leaked four penalty goals, awarded from positions, averaging 35-40 metres from the posts. The responsibility for the first two was given to fly-half Paul Roberts their regular kicker, who had failed to convert their two first half tries and then the remaining two to replacement wing Elliot Davies. All four were sent wide!
Doncaster used their remaining replacements, British Lion prop Darren Morris and former Hartpury College scrum-half Brad Field in the second half but to no avail as they did not threaten the Hawks line in the second half.
For the Hawks this result indicates that they have become firmly established in Division 1and in so doing kept their unbeaten record at Dry Leas, since January 2012, in tact.