Henley Hawks 33-22 Dings Crusaders
It was a classic case of a game of two halves as Henley Hawks did just enough to beat Dings Crusaders at a very blustery Dry Leas on Saturday.
With Storm Arwen causing damage all across the country, the weather was certainly going to act as a leveller before the sides even took to the pitch.
However, it was the Hawks who adapted quickest to the conditions. A penalty near half way in the first minute saw outside half Monty Bradbury kick to the corner. From the resulting lineout, a strong driving maul which has been such an important weapon for the Hawks in recent seasons, was finished by Rory Mason giving Henley an early 5-0 lead. The touchline conversion from Cookland was narrowly wide.
The visitors quickly fought back, and their first foray into the Henley 22 was rewarded as the ball was spun wide to the impressive winger, Harry Rowson, who crossed the whitewash to level the scores at 5-5. Again, the conversion was wide.
The Hawks were starting to show some real intent with their attacking play, which was even more impressive given the strong wind that was picking up as the game wore on. Tom Hall, Alex Bradley and Sam Lunnon were all making important metres, sniping through gaps that were presented to them.
In the backs, Henley were composed and accurate with the ball in hand, capitalising on the visitors mistakes. The pressure soon told, and on 18 minutes another driving maul deep into the Dings 22 saw Tom Emery crash over to extend Henley’s lead. This time Cookland’s conversion bisected the uprights.
The Hawks now smelt blood, and with Bradbury pulling the strings for the home side, the young fly half spotted a gap in the visitors defence to touch down between the sticks for his first try in Henley colours following more dominant forward play. This pulled Henley further clear at 19-5.
A couple of minutes later, Bradbury was in the thick of the action again. This time a perfectly weighted probing kick behind the Dings defence bounced kindly for Reuben Norville to collect and scamper in under the sticks. Cookland again converted and Henley were threatening to run up a cricket score at 26-5.
On the half hour mark, an excellent break from centre, George Amphlett and a superb offload to Alex Bradley saw the powerful number 8 evade several tackles to dot down between the uprights. With the conversion from Cookland a formality, the Henley lead was extended to 33-5 in what was without question the best 30 minutes of rugby the Hawks had put together all season.
This seemed to stun the visitors into life and with a couple of minutes left in the half, a last ditch covering tackle from George Wood, supported by Bradbury, managed to bundle the ever-dangerous Rowson into touch.
Just before the break, Hawks fullback Cookland hobbled off with what looked like a strained hamstring, he was replaced by Joe Butler.
With a commanding 33-5 lead at the break, it seemed Henley might run riot against the beleaguered visitors. However, whatever was said in the Dings changing room at half time clearly had the desired effect, as the second half was a complete role reversal.
Physical at the breakdown and finding gaps in the Hawks defence at will, Dings struck back on the 50 minute mark with fly half Tom Wilstead sniping through several tackles and crossing the whitewash. This was followed soon after with a third try when hooker Tom Anderson dotted down after an excellent driving maul. With the conversion narrowly wide, it pulled the score back to 33-17.
With the Hawks having made a raft of substitutions, the momentum they had built from their dominant first half showing had evaporated, and with 20 minutes remaining the visitors pressed again. Following a turnover in midfield, Dings went through the phases and Rowson crossed for his second of the afternoon which gave the Bristol side a try bonus point. With the tough conversion wide again, the score was 33-22 in the Hawks favour, with 12 minutes still left on the clock.
With Henley supporters anxiously looking at the scoreboard, the Hawks, to their credit, managed to wind the clock down well with Will Crow using his experience at scrum half to manage the game expertly. Any final threat of a Dings comeback was stifled out and Crow kicked the ball out to signal the end of an entertaining game.
Credit to both sides who wanted to play attacking rugby in atrocious conditions. As it is, Henley will be delighted with the bonus point victory which sees the move up to fifth place in National 2 South, and a fifth win in six matches.
Next Saturday, the Hawks travel to North Devon to take on Barnstaple. Kick-off at Pottington Road is 2pm.
Cook (Hughes 47), Emery (Adejimi 55), Mason (Frostick 60), Albon (Lowe 47), Harrison, Lunnon, Hall, Bradley, Crow, Bradbury, Wood, Amphlett, Panday, Norville, Cookland (Butler 38)
Replacements: Hughes, Frostick, Adejimi, Lowe, Butler
Tries: Mason 2, Emery 17, Bradbury 23, Norville 25, Bradley 31