Clifton RFC 21 Henley Hawks 13
Henley Hawks’ challenge for promotion took a huge blow on Saturday as they travelled to Bristol to take on league leaders, Clifton, and eventually went down 21-13 in a hard fought, error strewn game.
Clifton had won their previous eight matches but the Hawks will feel frustrated as they could have, and probably should have, won this game, and apart from the odd lapse in concentration and game management, they would have.
The Hawks came out firing on all cylinders and took the game to the Bristol side, quickly putting them on the back foot and certainly knocking them off their stride. Henley played some of their best rugby of the season in the first twenty minutes. Will Crow orchestrated things from scrum half and skipper Jake Albon and Sam Lunnon led the forward drives.
After just nine minutes, the Hawks won a penalty at the breakdown and kicked for the corner. From the resulting line out, the trusted driving maul was finished off by Tom Emery to open the scoring with his ninth try of the season. Monty Bradbury converted.
The Hawks almost increased their lead straight afterwards when another good line out drive allowed a crash ball move in the centre but the ball was lost at the last moment.
Henley tried to run the ball back at Clifton at every opportunity but both defences were strong and most of the time even themselves out.
Sam Lunnon won some excellent ball at the back of the line out while the front row of Rory Mason, Tom Emery and Brad Cook ensured that the Henley scrum was dominant throughout, often pushing Clifton backwards.
The Hawks kept up the pressure and eventually full back Guy Rawsthorn found a gap to break through. After the momentum was carried on with good drives by Sam Lunnon and Marcus Lowe, Clifton infringed and the Hawks won a penalty and extended their lead with a penalty from Monty Bradbury.
Clifton gradually got themselves going and started to have more possession and territory. A brief lapse in concentration from the Hawks defence allowed Clifton winger Alex Howman to break through and set up an attack in front of the Henley posts. With a penalty won, the home side kicked for the corner and although the Hawks halted the first line out drive, a second throw in saw Clifton prop Alex Giltrow unmarked at the back of the line out and he crashed over for Clifton’s first try. Luke Cozens converted.
Apart from the try, the Hawks defence coped well with anything Clifton threw at them and they saw the half out to lead 10-7 at half time.
Playing with the slight slope in the second half, Monty Bradbury extended Henley’s lead shortly after the break with a second penalty after some great work at the breakdown from Brad Cook.
It was Clifton who had the better of the second half enjoying most of the possession as they upped their game. The Hawks defence continued to be tenacious but they started to put themselves under pressure, trying to run out of their own 22. The scrum got them out out trouble a few times but Clifton kept up the pressure and all Henley’s good work up to then evaporated when Clifton eventually took the lead with their second try.
With the Hawks now facing constant attacks from the home side, the inevitable flow of penalties came against them. Clifton scrum half Mitch Spencer caught the Hawks off guard with a quickly taken penalty and No8 Brad Talbot crossed for the try. Cozens again converted to give the home side the lead 14-13.
Henley responded quickly and went close after some good handling from Lunnon, Albon and wing Alex Harmes but with Clifton in the ascendancy, the Hawks struggled to hold on to the ball long enough to launch any threatening moves. The home side went close a number of times but desperate Hawks defending kept them out.
Henley eventually got some good possession to work with but the passing was wayward and the ball was spilled and pounced on by the Clifton midfield and eventually Talbot crashed over for his second try. Cozens converted.
The Hawks had the better of the closing stages and went close to scoring when Reuben Norville was adjudged to have put his foot in touch after some great handling between forwards and backs.
The celebrations of the Clifton players at the end showed what this win against Henley meant to them, while the Hawks will reflect on what might have been.
15 Guy Rawsthorn, 14 Reuben Norville , 13 Terence Babarinsa, 12 James Davies, 11 Alex Harmes,
10 Monty Bradbury, 9 Will Crow,
1 Brad Cook, 2 Tom Emery, 3 Rory Mason, 4 Jake Albon (Capt), 21 Ben Harrison, 6 Sam Lunnon, 7 Marcus Lowe, 8 Alex Bradley
Reps: 16 George Probyn (for Cook 66), 17 Samson Adejimi (for Emery 63), 18 Scott White ( for Lowe 76), 19, Toby Gilbey (for Crow 63), 20 Cail Cookland (for Rawsthorn 69)