Tonbridge Juddians 35-26 Henley Hawks

By Alistair Beynon

Tonbridge Juddians came out on top against Henley Hawks on Saturday in an absorbing contest which saw the home side leapfrog Henley into fifth place in National 2 East. 

With Henley taking a narrow 26-20 lead midway through the second period, it looked like the Hawks might sneak the victory, but a determined last quarter from the home side saw them home, denying Henley a losing bonus point in the process. 

The game started at breakneck speed with both sides looking to play an expansive game. However, TJ's were the ones to grab the ascendency and were rewarded with a try when Luke Talbot crossed the whitewash out wide following an excellent crossfield kick that was gleefully taken by the winger. Tom White added the extras and TJ's had an early 7-0 lead. 

Henley suffered an early blow when influential fly half, Max Titchener went off injured after just 10 minutes, resulting in a significant re-organisation of the backline. However, despite the setback, the Hawks slowly grew into the game and began to assert their authority on the contest. With 20 minutes on the clock, fullback Toby Evans glided over for the visitors first score of the game. Adam Hakimian, stepping in for Titchener on kicking duties, hit the conversion and the scores were level. 

With the bit between their teeth, Henley were looking assured in attack and took the lead close to the half hour mark when flanker, Will Benning powered over. With Hakimian adding the extras, Henley edged ahead 14-7. 

Agonisingly for the away side, TJ's managed to find another gear just before the half-time whistle when their powerful flanker, Ryan Munnelly crashed over. With White adding the conversion, the two sides went at the interval locked at 14-14 after a gripping first 40 minutes. 

The second half started in a fine drizzle, and the greasy conditions resulted in several unforced errors from both sides, with neither able to put meaningful phases together. However, it was TJ's who managed to edge in front thanks to a White penalty. 

However, Henley soon hit back when Evans crossed for his second try of the afternoon following an interception in the Hawks 22.  With Hakimian doing a great job from the tee, Henley pulled ahead 21-17 after 50 minutes. 

The game was now beginning to open up and back came TJ's again. With the Hawks penalised close to their own try line, White stepped up and nailed the penalty to pull the score back to 21-20 to Henley and it really was game on. 

However, the Hawks were in determined mood and edged further ahead when Evans completed a fine hattrick with 20 minutes remaining after an attacking lineout went wide and the fullback cut an excellent line to find a gap in the corner. Unfortunately, Hakimian was wide with his conversion attempt, but Henley had built a 26-20 lead. 

Sadly for the Hawks this was as good as it got as TJ's managed to impose themselves on a tiring Henley side. A powerful attacking lineout was finished well by their prop Reece Conlon, and with White in sublime form from the tee, TJ's edged ahead 27-26 with 10 minutes remaining. 

A further White penalty put a little more daylight between the two sides, but with it remaining a one-score game, Henley still had hope they could find something special to win it late on. Sadly, that hope was soon extinguisehed when veteran centre, Duncan Tout scored a sensational effort with two minutes remaining to wrap up the contest. Despite White missing his first kick of the game, TJ's had pulled ahead to an unaissable 35-26 lead heading into injury time. 

Henley had a chance to come away with a losing bonus point on the stroke of the full-time whistle, but unfortunately Hakimian was narrowly wide with his penalty attempt. 

Considering the injury to Titchener early on, it was a stoic effort from Henley who will certainly feel they did more than enough to come away with at least a point for their efforts, but as it is slip to sixth in National 2 East. 

The fixtures don't get any easier as the Hawks welcome league leaders, Esher to Dry Leas this coming Saturday, kick-off 3pm for what promises to be another fantastic contest in what has been a thrilling season so far. 

Henley: 15. Evans, 14. Wood, 13. Crowley, 12. Hakimian, 11. Gordon, 10. Titchener, 9. Webb, 8. Taylor, 7. Vooght (c)., 6. Benning, Hayton, 4. Lowe, 3. Mason, 2. Totic, 1. Collins

Replacements: 16. Emery. 17. Bailey. 18. White, 19. Crow, 20. Rawsthorn 

Picture courtesy of Tonbridge Juddians