Birmingham & Solihull 15-24 Henley Hawks
Henley Hawks made it seven wins in succession on Saturday following a hard fought game against Birmingham & Solihull, securing an all important try bonus point late on.
This was a game that Henley dominated for long periods, however the scoreline shows that the hosts were dogged opposition who never gave up and caused Henley some problems, particularly in the latter stages of the match.
The game started brightly for Henley as multiple phases tested the home side’s defence which stood the test for the first 20 minutes or so. Indeed, the hosts were first on the score board as an error allowed a penalty to be converted by Jack Jolly from in front of the posts from about 40 metres out. This was just the warning that Henley required to focus and ensure greater accuracy.
There now followed a period of intense pressure when the visitors scrum was dominant and resulted in the hosts loose head being sent to the bin for constant scrummage infringements. This allowed quick ball to be generated from the scrum for Liam O’Neill to break through a few tackles to score wide out. In addition, the winger then converted superbly his own try from the touch line.
This signalled the kind of ruthless approach the coaches have been asking for, another attack from the kick off enabled Henley to get straight back into the hosts 22. Some excellent forward driving play, in particular from Bradley and Emery, who was playing in his 100th game in Henley colours, brought the side close to the Birmingham line. As a result, Dan Barnes, back with Henley after a few years away, made a decisive break to send Ryan O’Neill in for an excellent try wide out. This was a family effort, as his brother Liam once again added the extras from near the touchline.
At this stage it was all Henley as they continued to pressure the hosts line. However, some tenacious defence ensured there were no more scores before half time, although Sam Lunnon can consider himself unlucky as an excellent overhead pass was adjudged forward with the try line beckoning.
With Henley well in control at the break, it was essential that they kept this pressure going and this is exactly what happened. Within five minutes, the Hawks had forced an attacking lineout ten metres out. The delivery from Emery was pinpoint and the Henley eight drove over the line for Jake Albon to touch down.
This should really have signalled Henley pushing further on and getting the bonus point try. However, some promising attacking moves were once again thwarted by resolute home defence and some inaccuracy from Henley which allowed Birmingham to recover from potentially dangerous defensive positions.
Indeed, the hosts now sensed that they could get something from the game and upped their commitment and tempo. After constantly attacking the Hawks line, Dave Manning was sent to the bin for an alleged high tackle and the inevitable happened as the hosts made Henley pay with a converted try close to the posts. This period of play seemed to unnerve Henley, and again uncharacteristic mistakes allowed the hosts to once again pressure the Henley line and drive over wide out. With Henley now only leading by four points it seemed that anything could have happened. However, it was the visitors who shook off their lethargy and took to game to the hosts in ruthless fashion, with Xav Andre, playing his 150th game for the Hawks, to the fore with some hard, ruthless running. This pressure enabled Sam Randle to score the decisive bonus point score which went unconverted.
An unfortunate twist at the end of the game saw Dave Manning yellow carded which meant this became an effective red card. This, however, did not distract from another away win and five point maximum points as Henley maintained their place in second position in the National 2 South league table.
Up next is a huge game on Saturday as second plays third with the visit of Canterbury to Dry Leas, kick-off 3pm.
Henley: Randle, O’Neill L, Andre, O’Neill R, Wood, Barnes, Webb, Cook, Emery, Manning, Albon, Hyde, Lunnon(capt), Hall, Bradley. Reps: Stobbs, Primett, Neal, Lowe, McDougall.
Match Photos courtesy of Steve Karpa;