Hawks Second Half Comeback Not Quite Enough

Henley Hawks 26-31 Esher

Esher underlined their promotion credentials with a hard-fought victory over Henley Hawks at Dry Leas on Saturday. The visitors were clinical in attack and disciplined in defence claiming their twelfth successive win despite the Hawks nearly completing a miraculous second half comeback.

It was a cagey opening with attacking opportunities few and far between. However, it was the visitors who found a flash of inspiration after 10 minutes when an attacking lineout was spun wide to fullback Owen Waters who did well to find space in the corner to dot down. Sam Morley was on target with his conversion and Esher had an early foothold in the game.

The Henley lineout, which has been such a potent weapon all season, was struggling to get going and despite having plenty of territory and possession in the first quarter, the home side struggled to make it count. Indeed, it was Esher who pulled further ahead when their excellent scrum half, Pierre Thompson crossed out wide following a break from winger James Botterill.

Esher scented blood and scored a third on the half hour mark when the elusive Botterill touched down brilliantly in the corner. Henley finally got themselves on the scoreboard close to the interval when a quick tap penalty from Ryan Crowley saw the centre cut his way through the visitors defence. Jordan Oatley, filling in for the injured Max Titchener at fly half, added the extras and it was 19-7 to Esher.

However, just when the Hawks thought they were back in the game, the visitors secured their bonus point try right on the stroke of half time when Thompson powered his way over for his second of the afternoon after scything his way through the Henley defence all too easily.

The second half started just as the first one ended with Esher scoring their fifth try of the contest after hooker Andrew Hamilton crossed the whitewash following a powerful driving maul. The score extended Esher’s lead to 31-7 and there was seemingly no way back for a beleaguered Hawks.

However, a Will Benning try following an attacking lineout after 48 minutes sparked a comeback from the hosts who suddenly found another gear from nowhere. An excellent brace from fullback Toby Evans in close succession brought the score back to 31-26 with 20 minutes remaining and Henley were left sensing a remarkable comeback victory was on the cards.

In what was a nervy last quarter, Henley had opportunities to pin the visitors back into their own 22 but couldn’t quite take advantage. Showing their experience to manage the situation, Esher saw the game out to seal their 12th successive triumph in what was an exhilarating contest and a fantastic advert for National League rugby.

Henley Director of Rugby Luke Allen was in pragmatic mood afterwards. ‘I can’t fault the commitment and endeavour from the lads. We were dead and buried early in the second half, but the resilience shown by the whole team to get themselves back into the contest was great to see, and on another day we could easily have been celebrating a fantastic victory. As it is, we’ll take a lot of positives from this heading into next weekend’s game at Wimbledon’.

Henley Hawks

Evans, Wood, Crowley, Hakimian (Rawsthorn 58), Gordon, Oatley, Crow (Pattison 76), Collins, Totic (Emery 40), Mason, Lowe, Hayton (White 72), Lunnon, Vooght, Benning

Reps: Emery, Bailey, White, Pattison, Rawsthorn

By Alistair Beynon

Photo: Andrew Turner

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