Henley Hawks 10pts Coventry 18pts
Coventry full back Cliffie Hodgson kicked six penalties to send the Hawks to their fifth successive defeat 18-10. They conceded 12 penalties to three in the first quarter of the game. Although Hodgson only had the opportunity to convert three of these into points to give his side a nine point lead during this period the Hawks indiscipline was crucial against a team in the top six of the league.
This poor start to the game by Henley reflected in a disorganised approach to the game in general. They were fortunate that Coventry were not able to take advantage of their resultant dominance and they failed to take the most of scoring opportunities as a result of unforced errors and certainly did not impress as a team sixth in the league .
The Hawks again suffered from an in ability to win ball on their own throw in the line outs and during this early period were under pressure in the set scrums losing one put in against the head.
As the game moved into the second quarter they began to earn some decent possession and for the first time moved into the Coventry half. They kicked to gain territorial position and began to test the Coventry defence with the ball in hand. Their attacking play was based in their traditional use of moving the ball wide but there was little sign of breaking the Coventry defence in the centre.
They were handicapped by the issue of a yellow card to former Coventry prop Dai Maddocks after 22 minutes after a team warning for repeated offences. However the disadvantage of playing with a man short in the forwards soon disappeared when lock Dan Wright was also dismissed for obstructing Hawks’ fly half James Comben as he followed his own kick ahead.
For the first time in the game the Hawks had a controlled scrummage and with the experienced James Hadfield, also formerly at Coventry, now at loosehead produced an excellent controlled heel to set the Hawks able to run the ball for the first time in the game through their backs across field where Liam O’Neill appearing on the left wing gathered a difficult ball to use his pace to score in the corner. Comben converted with an excellent kick close to touch.
The Hawks therefore started the second half just two points in arrears. They were now playing with much more confidence and began to use the ball in hand with some promise. They were now able to drive Coventry back also in the set scrums. Such was their advantage with Hadfield now at loose head for much of the second half it was they that dominated the scrums by and large and Henley could consider themselves unlucky not to have been awarded penalties on three occasions when the Coventry back five were on their feet to stop the Hawks’ surge.
Some promising play in the backs which featured a good reverse off load by Comben led to the Hawks reducing the deficit again to five points after Hodgson had previously kicked his fourth penalty when Comben made the score 12-10 with a penalty from an difficult angle.
The Hawks now looked to have it within their grasp to secure at least a losing bonus point against a Coventry side which seldom threatened to score a try. However this valuable point was denied them in a catastrophic last four minutes of the game. For the first time in the second half they were out under pressure from the visitors.
They did have the benefit of a failed penalty attempt by Hodgson, the first failure in seven attempts all of which, including this one, were from in front of the posts. However indiscipline cost the Hawks the game as they gave away two penalties close to the posts. First when Liam Dwyer was given a yellow card and then three minutes in to injury time for illegally holding on to the ball. This presented Hodgson with the simplest of chances to give his side an 18-10 victory.
Hawks five defeats over the turn of the year were at the hands, maybe the boots of, with one exception of top sides on the league. They have conceded 107 points in these games and scored just 55 but the biggest margin of defeat was Rosslyn Park 28-7. Their defence has not been over whelmed but has suffered, particularly in this game, from incapacity to avoid giving penalties to the opposition. The biggest problem has been the ability to score tries in these games which have totalled just six in the last five which is in complete contrast to last season when they scored a season’s record of 186. True the opposition is much tougher and the number of injuries has made it difficult to play consistently.
As a result of this run of poor form they have slid towards the red relegation zone for now they are in 12th of 16 and with 35 points and are just three above Blackheath who in 14th place are on the edge of the red zone with three teams to be relegated.
The dog fight to avoid this is now on and the next three Hawks’ games with Hull Ionians (A), Cinderford (H) and Richmond (A) are going to have to be won to steer away from the red zone. The games against Hull Ionians and Cinderford can be viewed as eight pointers. The return of injured players such as Danny Wells, Matt Payne, Dave Manning, and Xavier Andre may well have a big influence on the results of these games. The maintenance of the support that the team have had despite their indifferent form will also be important.
15. Ed Yarnton, 14. Liam O’Neill, 13. Martin Nutt (Capt.), 12. Tom Allen, 11. Christophe Bart, 10 James Comben, 9. Luke Carter, 1. Dai Maddocks (Jim Hadfiield 49), 2. Ant Brennan, 3. Alex Penny, 4. Liam Dwyer, 5. Josh McNally (Will Woodward 68), 6. Luck Allen (Ryan Newman 51), 7 Ryan Long, 8 Robbie Stapley