Henley Hawks 13pts Clifton 23 pts
Henley Hawks came to this game on a losing streak having lost their previous three games. In contrast Clifton, after a poor start to the season had won their last three. The Hawks, following the heavy defeat at Canterbury, made one major change, at halfback, where Tom Parton was moved up from full back to fly-half and James Stevenson-Wright came in at scrum-half for leading points scorer this season, whilst George Jackson, leading scorer this season with 100 points, was on the bench. They also had James Comben, the Hawks’ major points scorer with over 1000 points over the last decade, as a replacement.
In the course of the game the new halfbacks combined well and Parton made some useful half breaks but the backs were not able to create scoring opportunities against a secure Clifton defence. In the eventuality, as is the familiar factor in Rugby Union matches, it is the forwards that dictate the final result.
The big Clifton pack were the decisive factor in this game. The Hawks were on the defensive for much of the first half butit was in the set pieces that Clifton had the whip hand. Henley could not secure possession on a number of occasions on their own throws in the line outs. On more than one occasion when they chose to throw to the back of the line Clifton disrupted or stole the ball. This coupled with the supremacy they had in the set scrums meant that in the first thirty minutes the game was played almost continually in the home half. The Hawks defence was sound enough to restrict Clifton’s scoring to a penalty by fly-half Brad Barnes, who had 100% success with his place kicks during the course of the game.. He put Clifton ahead with a penalty after 32 minutes.
In the closing ten minutes of the first half the Hawks were able to play the game in Clifton territory particularly through their forwards foraging in the loose where No. 8 David Hyde and the back row were to the forewith, skipper Dave Clements. As a result Parton was able to level the score at 3-3 with a successful penalty after 32.minutes. He had an opportunity to put the Hawks in the lead on half-time with another kick from a similar position but unfortunately sent the ball wide.
With the score at 3-3 the Hawks were well in the game . Unfortunately the third quarter of the game went badly for them and it was in this 20 minute that the game was lost. Clifton were revitalised and spent much of this period on the Hawks’ ‘ door step’. The pressure told and when they secured good ball froma set scrum down the left they moved the ball swift mid field where skipper, and former Hawks’ player, Danny Wells with a typical thrusting burst went through to score for Barnes to convert and make the score 3-10.
The visitors buoyed by this success continuedto dominate possession and then proceeded to produce the best back movement of the game moving the ball across the line at speed to give left wing Brian Watters enough room to score close to the corner flag which, with a good kick from wide out by Barnes made the score 3-17.
Of concern to the Hawks must be that they have now conceded five tries down the left touchline deep in the second half in the last four games.
In response the Hawks’ raised their game and put in some effective driving mauls, some close to half-way but importantly closing in on the Clifton try line and this pressure resulted in hooker Tom Emery crossing the white wash for Comben to convert
With score at 13-17, after Comben had converted a penalty kick, the Hawks were hoping to close in to score at least a bonus point. However it was then that Clifton showed the guile of finishing a closely fought match as they took their time to get to lineout throws so stealing valuable minutes in the final moments of the game. Barnes sealed the game for Clifton by kicking two penalties in the 72nd and 80th minutes
A depressing outcome for the Hawks who have now slipped down to fourteenth place in the league with only the newly promoted clubs, Exmouth and Barnstaple below them.
Match photos courtesy of Steve Karpa:
15.Alan Awcock, 14.Simon Perry, 13.Tom Gardner, 12. Connor Hayhow (James Comben 62), 11. Cameron Ives, 10.Tom Parton, 9. James Stevenson–Wright (George Jackson 75), 1. James Hadield (George Primett 38), 2. Tom Emery, 3. Barnaby Abdale-Weir (James Hadfield 46), 4. Dave Clements(capt.),5 . Jake Albon, 6. Tom Hall, 7.Connor Morrison (Scott White 59), 8. David Hyde.