Henley Hawks 21 pts Worthing Raiders 16 pts
This was a game which had the supporters of both sides gritting their teeth to the very last whistle. Locked together in the relegation zone on 51 pts a victory win was essential for each of these teams if they were to stand a chance of avoiding the drop back into National 2 (South) from which they had regained promotion last season.
The result was in doubt until the very last seconds of play. The Hawks who had the lead for the whole of the second half were however having to defend desperately to secure a vital victory as Worthing battered away on their line for the last ten minutes of play. A heroic defence in which the whole team tackled with immense determination managed to hang on to 21-16 lead which they established just eight minutes in to the second half the lead having changed hands four times before this.
The Hawks however were rocked just five minutes into the game when in a typical attempt to run from ten metres inside their own half their speedy full back Liam O’Neill was caught in possession. The Raiders quickly turned possession into a counter attack and moving the ball left to wing Ben Loosemore he was able to race in from 40 metres with Hawks defence fragmented.
Henley then settled into Raiders territory. After an early dominance in the scrum the Hawks were not able to maintain this. Good line out ball backed by their free swift running backs enabled them to put enough pressure on the visitors defence to enable the reliable boot of fly-half James Comben to put them a point ahead through two penalties at 6-5.
Although the gangling Kiba Richards at centre had to be nailed effectively before he got into his stride the Hawks backs showed the greater potential to score tries. However they were shaken when a scrum which had seen the Raiders under pressure quickly evaporated when scrum half Jordan Burns picked up a loose heel to race way down the wide blind side with a rare turn of speed leaving the Hawks cover stranded. Although full back Matt McLean could not add the conversion points he had been successful with a penalty a few minutes earlier which therefore left the Hawks trailing 13-6.
They urgently needed to retaliate. They did so thanks to the graft of their forwards who established authority through their effective driving mauling. This gave James Comben the chance to kick his third penalty. They then added further points on the cusp of half time when they drove the Raiders back over their line and Matt Payne secured a touch down. This was turned into seven points thanks to an excellent conversion by Comben.
The Hawks backs pace had stretched the Raiders defence in the first half and in particular that of Xavier Andre and Liam O’Neill who had raced through on a kick ahead to be thwarted when the ball went over the dead ball line. As O’Neill dived to touch down the Hawks combination at half-back of Comben and Ollie Frost had kept the Raiders fully occupied and it was this that created a vital second try just two minutes into the second half. Frost broke wide from a set scrum down the blind side. He then kicked a probing grubber kick which bounced kindly for Comben, who touched down near the corner flag. He thus had scored 16 points out of 21 which earned him the award of Man of the Match. The difficult conversion went wide but the Hawks now led 21-13.
The game seemed certain to swing the Hawks’ way after this when on 55 minutes the Raiders most effective forward Rob Smith was sent to the sin bin after 55 minutes for a deliberate knock when the Hawks were about ten metres out. He had been very instrumental in earning turnover ball in maul situations by holding the Hawks’ possession up.
However the Hawks were unable to profit from his absence. Despite the speed of their backs they were unable use this to their advantage and lacked patience to create scoring opportunities. It was Worthing that added to their score with a McLean penalty from in front of the posts after 48 minutes. Whilst Comben had the misfortune to hit an upright.
With Smith’s return to action with fifteen minutes to go the game was ripe for a pulsating finish. The Hawks resolve was fully tested but Danny Wells put in a typical thunderous tackle to stop dead one Raiders’ charge and Liam O’Neill’s try saving tackle on flanker James Chilsholm was crucial. These were cameos of defensive resolution.
The Hawks stoic resistance was further tested when Josh McNally was sent to the sin bin with under ten minutes to go. Worse was to follow when O’Neill was given similar notice to quit.
Down to 13 players the odds of a Hawks victory were fast diminishing. However the Raiders faltered under pressure and the Hawks awarded a penalty for back chat to the referee with the game now in injury time enabled them to end their game with a kick to touch.
The Hawks thus secured another step towards life in the Division 1 next season. They have achieved three victories in four games but their fate may will be in the hands of the other relegation candidates!
15. Liam O’Neill, 14. Xavier Andre (Ed Yarnton 77, Woodward 79), 13. Tom Allen, 12 Danny Wells, 11. Christophe Bart, 10. James Comben, 9. Ollie Frost 1. Dave Manning, 2. Liam Dwyer, 3. Ian Williams (Alec Penny (64), 4. Dave Clements, 5. Josh McNally 6. Matt Payne, 7. Ryan Newman 8. Robbie Stapley (Gus Jones 70).