Henley Hawks 33-27 Taunton Titans 

By Nick Pitson

Henley Hawks kept up the pressure on leaders Tonbridge Juddians with a 33-27 bonus point win over third placed Taunton Titans at Dry Leas on Saturday afternoon. It was a pulsating game for the fans and an excellent advert for the league. Nine tries were scored with both sides showing why they have occupied the the top three positions in the league over the season.

The Hawks were clinical, especially in the first hour, and scored their tries with speed and with good continuity between forwards and backs. They took their chances well and deserved to win but they didn’t have it all their own way, and Taunton, to their credit, showed why they are also promotion candidates by coming back from 33-10 down to create a brief scare at the end.

Taunton’s prolific points scorer Gary Kingdom confirmed the visitors bright start with an early penalty before the Hawks crossed for their first try. Some good surges from Alex Bradley and Dave Hyde, and a run from Reuben Norville, finished with Dave Hyde crashing over for a try which Ewan Fenley converted.

The exchanges were fast and furious with both sides creating chances. Tom Emery looked to be coming back to his best form and the back row of Bradley, Sam Lunnon and Marcus Lowe took the game to the Somerset side. Ewan Fenley again looked totally in control at scrum half and had a good game linking the Hawks play together.

Taunton matched the Hawks early on and their scrum was totally dominant in the first half. They retook the lead when they demolished a Hawks scrum near to the posts and the referee had no option but to award a penalty try to the visitors.

But for Henley No8 Alex Bradley’s excellent control and skill at the back of a retreating scrum, the Hawks could have found themselves with a mountain to climb although Taunton will be disappointed that they didn’t really capitalise on their dominance. At this point in the game, the Hawks defence was excellent and snuffed out any Taunton attacks with great commitment.

Bradley’s work at a defensive scrum allowed the Hawks to relieve some more  Taunton pressure and push Henley up to half way. A good backs move allowed Xav Andre to put winger George Griffiths clear with a beautifully timed pass and he outpaced his opposite number to run in for a try from 40m to restore the Hawks lead.

The Hawks began to get on top and then crossed for a third time after some excellent handling between the forwards and backs with Hyde, Charlie Hughes, Xav Andre and Reuben Norville all involved. The ball went out to the backs and George Wood broke a weak tackle to scamper in for the try. Fenley converted to give the Hawks a 19-10 lead at the break.

The Hawks extended their lead straight from the restart when a penalty was turned into a line out close to the visitors line. Dave Hyde went close with the initial drive but quick recycling gave space to Samir Kharbouch who crossed for the bonus point try, again Fenley converted.

Henley were having some success at disrupting the visitors line out and then capitalised on another Taunton attack that broke down and won a vital turnover. An excellent inside pass put George Wood clear and he was well supported by Ewan Fenley who crossed for his thirteenth try of the season and is now the league’s top try scorer outright.  After Fenley’s conversion, at 33-10, it looked as though the Hawks had done enough to seal the game.

It seems in every game, the Hawks have a fifteen/twenty minute period when they lose discipline and focus on the game. They let big leads slip against Clifton and Redruth earlier in the season and there were signs that this may happen again here.

Taunton sensed this, got the bit between their teeth and with help from some poor Henley game management, fought their way back into the game. A try from Jack Arnott started the fight back after the Hawks failed to run the ball out of their own 22. The resulting scrum ended with Arnott finishing a simple Taunton move to score in the corner.

The Hawks then kicked the restart straight out and after a succession of penalties found themselves defending again. After some frantic exchanges on the Hawks line, Taunton’s Sonny Haines crashed over for a try which Kingdom converted.

A tactical change had allowed the Hawks to get more parity in the scrum and they went close with a good attack with Tom Emery and George Primett linking with Ewan Fenley.

Instead of playing for territory, the Hawks expansive game became unstuck again when a late Taunton attack resulted in the visitors deservedly gaining a bonus point with their fourth try, a second for Sonny Haines, leaving the score at 33-27.

There was time for the restart but when the Hawks were penalised in midfield right at the end, another opportunity arose for the visitors but the Hawks claimed the vital line out and kicked the ball out to end a thoroughly entertaining game played by two good teams.

Henley’s head coach Luke Allen was pleased with his sides efforts. “A win is a win but we are not getting carried away. I was pleased with our exciting, clinical attacking play and were able to open them up and score some good tries, especially in the first half. However, they came back well so we have got to learn to consolidate and play these tight games in the right areas of the pitch. The pressure is building on all the teams near the top of the league but we won’t get ahead of ourselves and aim to keep building on each game”.

Henley

15 George Wood, 14 George Griffiths, 13 Xav Andre, 12 Samir Kharbouch,, 11 Reuben Norvill, 10 Ben Bolster, Ewan Fenley

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 Rory Mason (for Hughes 40min), 17 Zac Clarke (for Primett 70min) ,18 Will Bordill (for Lowe 49min), 19 Jimmy Wright (for Hyde 80min), 20 Jack Robinson (for Griffiths 60min)

HENLEY

Tries: Hyde 8, Griffiths 24, Wood 35, Kharbouch 42, Fenley 47

Conversions: Fenley 8, 35, 42, 47

Penalties:

TAUNTON

Tries: Penalty 14, Arnott 59, Carpenter 65, 80

Conversions: Kingdom 65

Penalties: Kingdom 6,

Star Man:  (Henley)

Referee: Daniel Collins

Attendance: 410

Halftime scoreline: Henley 19-10 Taunton

Match photos courtesy of Steve Karpa; 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/steve_karpa/albums/72157712633074578