Photo: c Nick Pitson
Henley Hawks 10 pts Old Albanians 17 pts
Henley Hawks lost their proud home record having last been beaten at Dry Leas in January 2012 by Shelford. Had the game been decided by the amount of possession controlled by the two sides, and territorial dominance the Hawks would have won comfortably. They had 65% of the possession in the game most pronounced in two main phases. Particularly in the first half when apart from an almost loan attack, after the first five minutes when the OA’s scored their first try, most of the game was played in the visitors 22 apart from when they scored their second try.
The Hawks however could not turn this dominance into points for two main reasons. The well organised Albanians defence and their poor handling. True the game was played in what could be described as greasy wet conditions which was not conducive to the dry favoured by the Hawks. Their passing movements were stuttering. They were unable to find space to develop scoring opportunities. Had these features been better they could have penetrated the visitors defence. Further they found it difficult in the maul situation to drive the ball when pressing to cross the white line.
Despite the continued absence of their injured ‘legions’ compounded by the unavailability of their first choice locks following last week’s game at Blaydon they continued to do well in the set pieces particularly the set scrums. It was an inabilityto ruck the ball following effective tackling which restricted the opportunities to sustain attacks and in this regard they suffered from the injury to flanker Tommy Haynes, early in the second half, who showed the most aggression in this phase of play.
The Hawks fell behind 7-0 after just 7 minutes when the OA’s scored on the first occasion they were near the Hawks’ line when OA’s flanker and skipper Billy Johnson ran through some ineffective tackling to score, for full back Richard Gregg to convert.
The Hawks were able to make use of tapped penalties and the running of centre Tom Allen and wing Xavier Andre plus forays by full back Liam O’Neill but they could not beat an obdurate visitor’s defence. In contrast as half-time approached the Albanians scored again when they launched their first serious attack for some time and from a five metre line out scrum-half Stefan Liebenberg stole away to score for Gregg again to convert to make the score at half time 14-0.
The second half continued in somewhat the same manner as the first with Hawks again having the great majority of possession. However the Hawks were now improving their handling and passing but this was countermanded by an improvement in the visitors defence. Nevertheless after shunning opportunities to kick penalty goals Comben was given the chance to put them on the scoreboard from upwards of 35 metres and he took the score to 14-3 after 46 minutes Once more the OA’s took the opportunity to score with a drop goal from mid-field by Gregg, their accomplished full back. This score came from a comparatively rare visit to the Hawks half.
With 25 minutes to go the Hawks showed determination to close the 17-3 gap as the half proceeded. Will Robinson came on at full back at this score and the handling of the backs improved. The last quarter of the game was mostly spent in the visitors half. It was also then that the Hawks got some ball to left wing Jarryd Robinson who put in two electric runs of 40 metres close to touch.
The Hawks certainly deserved to get something out of this game to reflect their contribution and it came in the dying seconds when the ball was switched from Luke Carter’s tapped penalty in the OA’s 22 on the right to the left where fly-half Comben appeared to touch down near the corner. He then, with the last kick of the game superbly secured the vital conversion from close to touch to earn the Hawks a valuable bonus point.
This surprisingly enabled them to maintain their ninth place in the league as the results of the teams immediately below them were in their favour. As Head Coach Nigel Dudding said after the game “In this league any team can beat any other team. Should make for an interesting exciting climax to the season.”
15. Liam O’Neill (Will Robinson 52), 14. Jaryd Robinson, 13. Martin Nutt (capt.)12. Tom Allen (Charlie Incledon 49) 11 Xavier Andre, 10.James Comben, 9. Luke Carter, 1.Dai Maddocks (Hugo Milford Scott), 2. Ant Brennan, 3. Alex Penny (Sam Steventon 75), 4. Tom McGregor, 5. Will Woodward, 6. Tom Haynes (Conner Stapley 45), 7. Ryan Long. 8. Robbie Stapley