An outstanding second half performance from Henley’s tight forwards ended a run of three consecutive defeats and ensured a morale boosting victory over Blackheath on Saturday.
The Hawks have suffered a long list of injuries this season but were able to welcome back Danny Wells at centre, Luke Carter at scrum half and Liam Dwyer and Ben Ashmore to the pack.
In the opening exchanges both sides started brightly, but it was Blackheath, not the biggest side to visit Dry Leas this season, who had plenty of possession and kept Henley pinned down in their own half.
A tactical kick from outside half David Marshall put the visitors deep inside the Henley 22 where they then sole the Hawks line out. A good drive from wing forward James Liston led to a short side move and prop Nick Winwood went over in the corner to score Blackheath’s first points. Marshall failed with the conversion.
Henley replied quickly and after a couple of forward drives, wing Jaryd Robinson made good yardage which resulted in Blackheath being penalised at the breakdown and outside half James Comben kicked his first points of the afternoon for the Hawks.
Henley played with plenty of endeavour and effort but lacked the accuracy needed to breakdown the visitors defence. Blackheath were also dominating the lines out and the Hawk’s performance at this stage was frustrating and littered with errors. When they had possession, they were guilty of too many infringements at the breakdown, including twice in their own 22 and were punished accordingly by two David Marshall penalties to gift the visitors an 11-3 lead.
However, there were signs that the Henley forwards were starting to get the upper hand. Robbie Stapley, Will Woodward and Dai Maddocks all carried the ball well and the Hawks’ eight were beginning to dominate the scrums.
Eventually, from a scrum on the Blackheath 22, the Hawks backs made good use of their pace and moved the ball quickly to allow skipper Martin Nutt to score Henley’s first try in the corner. Comben missed the conversion.
Just before half time, Henley enjoyed a series of set scrums close to the Blackheath line. The visitor’s pack was now retreating with alarming ease and Luke Carter almost went over from close range. Eventually another Henley mistake allowed Blackheath to clear and hold on to lead 11-8 at the break.
The second half belonged to the Henley forwards who dominated the loose exchanges. The front row of Dai Maddocks, Ant Brennan and Alex Penny were outstanding as the Hawks scrum dismantled their opponent’s set piece at every opportunity, and there was no respite for Blackheath when Hugo Milford-Scott replaced Maddocks after almost an hour.
Pressure began to tell on the visitors and a surge from from Ant Brennan and Luke Carter resulted in another Henley penalty which Comben converted to level the scores at 11-11.
Henley centres Danny Wells and Tom Allen gained confidence as the match went on and were now a constant threat with strong running and crisp passing. Their combination put Robinson clear but the Blackheath defence scrambled to prevent any scoring opportunity.
By now, Henley had increased the tempo. Following another dominant scrum on half way, good breaks were made by Nutt and then Stapley which took the attack into the visitors’ 22. Another quick move from the backs allowed winger Robinson to score wide out and give Henley the lead for the first time in the match, 16-11.
Blackheath, to their credit, never gave up and tried to keep Henley in their own half by kicking tactically into the corners. A Blackheath move was superbly snuffed out by a crunching tackle from Danny Wells and in the melee that followed, Blackheath were penalised to allow Comben to increase Henley’s lead to 19-11 with a penalty from the half way line.
As Henley grew in confidence, replacement Connor Stapley secured a line out and a good drive from the Hawks allowed them to camp near to the Blackheath line. With the Henley front five forwards now in complete control, a series of scrums resulted in a penalty in front of the posts which Comben converted to make it 22-11.
In the closing stages, Henley broke through and a Danny Wells chip put the Hawks within striking distance of the Blackheath line yet again. Following a good drive again from Robbie Stapley, Carter fed second row Will Woodward who capped his ‘Man of the Match’ performance by powering over for Henley’s third try. The conversion was missed but the 27-11 scoreline will give the Hawks confidence as they prepare for their trip to Worthing next week.