By Nick Pitson
After last weeks victory at Old Albanian, Henley Hawks are back at Dry Leas on Saturday for their latest National 2(South) fixture. Westcliff RFC are the visitors, for the first time in Henley and the kick off for the match is 3pm.
Results in the league last week now see four teams with a serious chance of promotion, or at least a play off place at the end of the season. Despite the much needed victory at Old Albanian last week, the Hawks have slipped to third place in the league albeit on the same number of points as second place Tonbridge. The Kent side, who were top before last weeks games suffered the same fate as the Hawks by going down at Redruth 14-3. Redruth, in fourth are now only four points of the top spot. Pole position is now held by Taunton Titans. They picked up a bonus point victory at Clifton and now lead the table by one point from Tonbridge and the Hawks. With just four points separating the top four sides, it promises to be a tense but exciting finish to the season.
The Albanian victory was a much needed one for the Hawks. Having lost the two previous games to promotion challengers, it was important for the Hawks to get back to winning ways and they did that fairly emphatically. The forwards dominated the loose play and it was good to see Elliot McPhun and Will Panday doing well in their first starts. There is the frustration of not gaining a bonus point but the Hawks are right back in the mix for the challenge for the promotion places. On paper, the Hawks have one of the easier challenges this week but Westcliff will be no pushovers and the Henley side will have to concentrate for the full eighty minutes
Since being promoted to National 2(South) at the end of last season, Westcliff have been at the bottom end of the table. They are still fighting to preserve their National 2(South) status but have pulled themselves up to 13th in the table and some 13 points clear of the relegation places so they have a real chance of survival now. They have won five matches so far, two of these against Redruth and Esher before Christmas. Back in the beginning of November, the Hawks made the journey to Essex and came away with a 25-16 victory. Last week, Westcliff went down at home 34-29 to Worthing.
Head coach Luke Allen shows the strength in the squad for the Westcliff game.
The backs show a number of changes from the team that took on Old Albanian last week. Elliot McPhun stays at scrum half and partners Alex Burrage at half back. Burrage moves from the centre where his place is taken by the returning Samir Kharbouch. Will Panday, who impressed on his debut last week fills the other centre berth with Xav Andre taking his place on the replacements bench. Reuben Norville returns from injury to the wing and Will Janes replaces George Wood at full back.
There is just one change in the forwards with George Primett returning to the front row with Brad Cook reverting to bench duties.
15 Will Janes, 14 Reuben Norville, 13 Will Panday, 12 Samir Kharbouch , 11 Jack Robinson, 10 Alex Burrage, 9 Elliot McPhun, 1 George Primett, 2 Tom Emery, 3 Charlie Hughes, 4 Jake Albon, 5 Dave Hyde, 6 Marcus Lowe, 7 Sam Lunnon, 8 Alex Bradley,
Replacements : 16 Brad Cook, 17 Rory Mason, 18 Scott White, 19 Jimmy Wright, 20 Xav Andre,
Elsewhere, the Hawks 2nd (Bulls) XV make the short journey to take on Maidenhead 2nd XV, kick off is slightly earlier at 2.30pm.
The Hawks 3rd (Vikings) have a home game, and they take on High Wycombe at Dry Leas. Kick off is also 2.30pm.
There is no game this week for the Henley Vets (Vultures) XV.