Hull Ionians 14 Pts Henley Hawks 28 Pts
There was a bitter sweet start to this game for the Hawks anxious to put an end to a five match losing run. Even before the start they announced that their influential No. 8 Robbie Stapley had been withdrawn from the game because of a hand injury. Then directly from the kick o, by the Ionians, prop Alex Penny, who has been an ever present in the side this season with consistent impressive performances, was forced to leave the field suffering a damaged rib as he attempted to deal with a loose untidy situation.
The Hawks, however, immediately announced that they were going to keep the ball on the move. James Comben took the ball down the right and the eager Christophe Bart put clear showed his pace and determination to out wit the home cover and put them into a five point lead There was, from this positive start an indication that the Hawks were in the mood to play the kind of rugby that had brought them promotion from Division 2 (South). This was helped by the weather as the prevailing rainy conditions gave way to a dry afternoon even blessed with pale winter sunshine
However there was also quickly a strong sense of de ja vu, amongst the Hawks’ faithful, of the game with Coventry the previous week as they began to concede penalties. Referee Kirkpatrick awarded eight against them in the first quarter of the game three of which scrum-half Isaac Green was able to put between the posts by the 32nd minute.
Both sides lacked confidence as they were keenly aware of the importance of the result given their league positions. They were guilty of unforced errors but the Hawks were steadied by a penalty by Comben after 19 minutes, after his first attempt had been aborted by a slip caused by the muddy underfoot conditions, given for a high tackle. This gave the Hawks an 8-3 lead which was nullified by Green within five minutes to make the score 8-6. The Hawks, however, immediately made the most of the spilling of a ball from a ruck situation by the home team. This was seized on by an alert Comben who quickly slipped the ball to Bart, near the half way line, who ran powerfully close to touch to out pace the Ionians defence to put the Hawks 13-6 in the lead.
The Hawks however were not able to command possession and despite some aggressive running in the loose by lock Josh McNally they began to look vulnerable to counter attacks by an increasingly confident home pack. After Green had converted his third penalty this was confirmed when a kick ahead was gathered and a driving maul could not be halted and the Hawks conceded an unconverted try by No. 8 Mark Wigham close to half-time to put them one point in arrears at 13-14.
From the start of the second half the Hawks showed that they prepared to run the ball at the opposition however there was not a single minded approach to the game. They were prepared to kick the ball out of defensive situations and Comben’s kicking out of hand gained considerable ground from static situations or on the move with the ball in hand. The Hawks therefore were now in a dominant situation in terms of territory.
Comben kicked them into the lead 16-14 ten minutes into the second half. The Hawks were more aggressive in their attacking mode in the centre and this was well illustrated when Liam O’Neill in possession on the home side’s 22 smashed a tackler backwards on a burst which created the Hawks’ third try of the game.
This kind of aggression was also true of the play of fellow centre, Danny Wells. A tackle on his opposite number was memorable for it was not just a collision but a demolition. Hawks’ fourth try of the match looked to have been scored when in a superbly timed run from a deep position by Wells put him clean through thanks to an exquisite flat pass by skipper Martin Nutt. Unfortunately referee Kirkpatrick, 20 metres in arrears, declared the pass to be forward – on examination of the video of the game it confirms this was not so.
The Hawks however were not to be denied a fourth try. In the last quarter of the game their scrum began to dominate in the tight and they were also able to launch a driving maul over 30 metres out from the home line This drove on with the help of two backs until on the line Dai Maddocks, a recent replacement, peeled off to touch down to make the score 28-14 after 73 minutes.
The Hawks were now dominate throughout and in the final minutes Bart was close to scoring a hat trick of tries. This would have been a fitting reward for the man of the match for he was ceaselessly looking for attacking opportunities, whereever, and he tackled his opposite number out of the game.
This second way win of the season was well deserved and the Hawks will be looking to build on this when they play Cinderford, another club in the danger zone, at Dry Leas this coming Saturday.
15. Ed Yarnton, 14. Christophe Bart, 13. Liam O’Neill, 12. Danny Wells, 10. James Comben, 9. Luke Carter, 1. David Manning, 2. Ant Brennan, 3. Alec Penny (Jim Hadfield 2, Dai Maddocks 64), 4. Liam Dwyer (Conner Stapley 79) 5. Josh Manning, 6. Luke Allen, (Ryan Long 58), 7. Ryan Newman, 8. Will Woodward.