Comben’s Kicks See Hawks Keep Their Unbeaten Record
Henley Hawks 15pts Taunton Titans 10pts
As against Canterbury the previous Saturday the Hawks turned a half-time deficit into full time victory. This was, in comparison, a low scoring affair, as against a 30-29 victory the week before.
James Comben retuning after injury saw them home kicking five penalties in difficult wet conditions.
Both sides declare to be lovers of free flowing rugby. There was little chance of this on an afternoon of continuous rain. The Hawks fielded several players who were absent from the drama of their defeat of Canterbury but were still without their usual half-backs Will Robinson (fly-half) and Connor Murphy (scrum-half). They were also without Mark Bruce who has deputised at scrum-half on three occasions.
They were, however, able to sign Tom Parker on loan from Ealing Trailfinders at scrum-half and he combined well with James Comben (fly-half) who has been on the injury list since the first game of the season. As it turned out his inclusion was a deciding factor as far the result of he game was concerned.
The first half of the match was spent almost entirely in the Hawks half. They were denied possession by a sturdy Taunton pack, however, in a short excursion into the visitors 22 metre are, when the Titans failed to release the ball in a tackle. Comben put the Hawks 3-0 ahead from in front of the posts after nine minutes.
The Titans then put the Hawks under pressure between their 22 and 45 metre area. This resulted in referee Chris Ridley penalising the Hawks for three offences from positions of about 30-3 5 metres adjacent to the posts. Surprisingly, full back Gary Kingdom, the leading kicker in Division 2 (South) proceeded to miss all three kicks. Eventually the pressure they exerted on the Hawks paid dividends when a passing movement from a set piece enabled fly-half Toby East to split a stretched defence to touch down near the posts which gave Kingdom the chance to add the extra points to make the score 7-3 at half time.
In the first forty minutes there were only two occasions when the Hawks moved into attacking positions of promise. The first came when full back Will Jones collected a clearance kick in the Hawks 22 and was able to put in a searing run which eventually faltered when his pass to wing Jake Randall went astray. The other came from a full fluid three quarter movement which suffered from a poor finish.
For almost the whole of the first half the Hawks were playing with a lack of purpose and the Titans were not put under pressure. From the start of the second half there was much more intensity in their play despite being without the services of Matt Payne who was given a yellow card for persistent team offences immediately before half-time As has been noticed on other occasions this serves to incentivize the Hawks to greater efforts and they immediately started to dominate the set scrums in which the Titans had previously had held sway. On Payne’s departure they put the Titan’s scrum into full retreat which referee Chris Ridley unfortunately punished by giving Kingdom the opportunity to kick a penalty from in front of the posts.
However from the start of the second half the territorial advantage was with the Hawks who were now faced with a 6-10 deficit.
The Hawks then spent the rest of the game eating away at the Titan’s lead. They were unable to build driving mauls to score tries but reduced the number of times they had put Taunton in possession by kicking out of defence although full back Jones had done this effectively with low raking kicks close to touch .They adopted a policy of pressuring the Titans forwards to giving away penalties and relied on the accurate kicking of Comben to score three penalties in the last quarter of the game taking the score to 15-10.
In the closing minutes, the pack-by picking and driving-denied the visitors’ chances of running the ball back at them from clearance kicks.
Another hard earned victory for the Hawks The game could be summed up as a ‘Tale of Two Kickers’ One who missed but one all the game, in the closing minutes, which did not matter, the other who missed three consecutive kicks at the start – which did matter.
15. Will Jones (Simon Perry 64), 14. Xavier Andre, 13. Fred Pierrepoint, 12. George Eastwell, 11. Jake Randall, 10. James Comben, 9. Tom Parker, 1. Dave Manning, 2. Nathan Taylor, 3.James Litchfield, 4. Dave Clements 5. Matt Payne, 6. Tom Hall 7. Ryan Newman, 8. Robbie Stapley ( Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas 59)