Old Albanian 31-20 Henley Hawks
It was a tough day in the blistering heat for Henley Hawks on Saturday as they succumbed to a 31-20 defeat at the hands of Old Albanian in their first away game of the 2023/24 season.
In what proved to be a game of two halves, the Hawks lead at the break and even scored within the first minute of the second period, only for the hosts to mount an impressive comeback, helped by poor discipline to come away with the spoils.
An early Max Titchener penalty put Henley up 3-0 after 8 minutes on the clock following early pressure. However, OA’s quickly found their rhythm and hit back soon afterwards. A well worked catch and drive saw the hosts several yards out from the Hawks line, and playing with the penalty advantage a quick pass on the blind side saw them over for the first try of the afternoon. Converted well from near the touchline, OA’s had now built a 7-3 lead and were quickly on the offensive again. However, some stoic defending from the Hawks managed to repel anything that the home side threw at them.
With the hot weather proving to be very tough to contend with for both sides, the regular stoppages in play meant neither team could play with the fluidity they wanted to. With 30 minutes on the clock, Henley were struggling to impose themselves on the game with OA’s having the lions share of possession and territory, but only a narrow 4-point lead to show for their efforts.
More resolute goal line defending managed to keep the home side out, forcing a knock-on and allowing the Hawks the opportunity to clear their lines. And on the stroke of half-time, successive Hawks penalties gave Titchener the opportunity to drive his team downfield and kick to touch five metres out. With Henley using their trusty driving maul to maximum effect, Tom Emery managed to touch down for a well-worked Hawks try. Excellently converted by Titchener, Henley went in at the break with a narrow 10-7 lead.
This lead was further extended with the first play of the second half. Failing to collect the re-start, the Hawks pounced on the loose ball and Marcus Lowe charged in from 20 metres out. Unfortunately, Titchener was just wide with his conversion, but the Hawks had built a commanding 15-7 lead in the process.
Sadly, this was about as good as it got for Henley as OA’s, helped by some poor discipline from the Hawks, slowly began to assert their authority on proceedings. With winger, Seyi Ajeigbe proving to be a thorn in the Hawks side all afternoon, he evaded several tackles on his way to scoring his sides second try of the afternoon. With the extras added, it brought the score back to a one-point game at 15-14 to Henley.
The hosts were now on top, and with Henley desperately holding onto their narrow lead, it felt as though it was only a matter of time before the pressure would tell.
A penalty from a collapsing scrum gave the hosts a straightforward penalty to re-take the lead, and this they managed to do with relative ease. Now in the ascendancy, 17-15, OA’s were playing with real confidence that had alluded them in the first half.
After another penalty which saw Sam Lunnon yellow-carded, OA’s kicked for the corner and from the subsequent lineout went over for their third try following an excellent catch and drive.
At 23-15, a man in the sin-bin and with only 15 minutes left on the clock, it was always going to be an uphill task for the Hawks to get back into the contest. However, this seemed to spur Henley into life and an excellent break into the hosts 22 saw Alex Bradley frustratingly knock-on only a few metres out.
With five minutes to go, OA’s secured their try bonus point after yet more pressure in the Hawks 22. However, with Lunnon now back on the field, Henley scored a consolation try in injury time after replacement hooker, Istok Totic burrowed over to make the final score 31-20 to Old Albanian.
Henley welcome old rivals, Bury St. Edmunds to Dry Leas this coming Saturday and will keen to rediscover the performance levels from the opening game of the season against Guernsey. Kick-off is 3pm.
Henley Hawks: 15. Toby Evans, 14. Guy Rawsthorn, 13. Harrison Hall, 12. Adam Hakimian, 11. George Wood, 10. Max Titchener, 9. Leo Webb, 1. Kadeem Collins, 2. Tom Emery, 3. Rory Mason (c), 4. Marcus Lowe, 5. Sam Lunnon, 6. Will Benning, 7. Scotty White, 8. Alex Bradley
Replacements: 16. Istok Totic, 17. Olly Frostick, 18. Callum Ross, 19. Jordan Oatley, 20. Lailand Gordon