HENLEY HAWKS 29-32 CANTERBURY
By Nick Pitson
Henley’s seven game winning run came to an end at Dry Leas on Saturday when Canterbury deservedly took the spoils and leapfrogged the Hawks into second place in the table.
In damp conditions, both sides produced a thrilling game of high quality which was a tremendous advert for the league.
Both sides scored five tries but the men from Kent were the better side on the day. They were well organised and moved the ball fluently and at pace. The Canterbury half backs were also sharper, controlling the game well when they had possession and attacked with width and pace.
That said, the Hawks forwards more than matched their opponents, particularly in the set pieces and the commitment to the cause was exceptional from the whole side. Tom Emery crossed for a hat trick of tries.
In a frantic start, it was the visitors who took the initiative, controlling possession with ease and using their two experienced second row forwards to do much of the donkey work. It wasn’t long before Canterbury took the lead. A good counter ruck from the Hawks led to the ball going loose and Sam Sterling almost scored down the blind side. The Hawks defence was tested again wide out but the victors took the lead when the impressive Tom Best crashed through. Ollie Best converted.
It was a full ten minutes before the Hawks got any worthwhile possession but once they did, they began to use it well. The back row of Alex Bradley, Sam Lunnon and Marcus Lowe drove well and a good move involving Tom Emery and Dave Manning set up a try for skipper Sam Lunnon who forced his way over wide out.
Canterbury replied immediately, moving the ball well between forwards and backs before centre Sam Sterling ran a great angle to run in for a try giving the visitors a 12-5 lead.
Back came the Hawks. Following a good line out steal, Finn Pietersen broke and after support from Sam Lunnon gained a penalty which was kicked to the corner. The resulting driving maul was finished by hooker Tom Emery who crossed for the first of his three tries.
With the game being played at a tremendous pace, Canterbury extended their lead with a penalty from Ollie Best. Canterbury then crossed for their third try just before the break after good use of the narrow side by Dan Smart. Some excellent handling at pace set up Sam Sterling for his second try and put daylight between the teams with a 20-10 half time lead.
Canterbury started the second half with purpose looking to kill the game off as quickly as possible and it looked as if they had done that when another break from scrum half Dan Smart around the fringes set up another try from Tom Best, which was converted by Ollie Best. At 27-10 to the visitors, it looked as though the game was finished for the Hawks but to their credit they never gave up and started to get a bit more possession.
After a surge into Canterbury territory, Henley’s favourite weapon, the driving line out worked again when Alex Bradley crossed for the Hawks third try. The Hawks then won the ball from a Canterbury attack and Xavier Andre and Alex Bradley combined to put the Hawks deep into the visitors 22. A penalty was won and the Hawks went again for a driving line out. This time the Canterbury defence held firm but from the resulting scrum, and a series of drives, Tom Emery crashed over for his second try. Finn Pietersen converted to bring the Hawks within five points of the visitors.
At this point the Hawks had their tails up and fought their hardest to gain parity. However,any thoughts of a complete fight back disappeared when a Henley handling error gifted possession to the visitors and some slick passing and running was finished by scrum half Dan Smart to score a try and give Canterbury a ten point cushion.
The Hawks were still enjoying more of the possession towards the end and in a frantic finish, the Hawks pummelled the visitors line, looking for a second bonus point. Their efforts were finally rewarded when Tom Emery crashed over for his hat-trick and his sides fifth try. O’Neill converted but Canterbury finished deserved winners.
Nigel Dudding, Henley’s Director of Rugby was philosophical afterwards. “If you look at the score it was a cracking game but to score five tries and lose is a bit hard to take. Unfortunately we never got our noses in front and missed a number of kicks. It was a full blooded game and fair play to Canterbury, they defended well and we got caught a bit narrow at times. It was a reasonable performance to take into next week but we need to be more accurate about things”.
The Hawks did indeed play well but Canterbury were impressive and although there was not a lot in it, there is no disgrace in being beaten by the better team on the day.
15 Sam Randal, 14 George Wood, 13 Dan Barnes, 12 Xavier Andre, 11 Liam O’Neill 10 Finn Pietersen, 9 Leo Webb
1 Brad Cook, 2 Tom Emery, 3 Dave Manning, 4 Jake Albon, 5 Dave Hyde, 6 Sam Lunnon, 7 Marcus Lowe, 8 Alex Bradley
Zac Clarke (for Cook) 51 mins
Ryan O’Neill (for Pietersen) 70mins,
Tom Hall (for Lowe) 39 mins,
Ross MacDougall (for Webb) 53 mins
Tries: Lunnon 15, Emery 26, 59, 80, Bradley 51,
Conversions: Pietersen 60, L O’Neill 80
Tries: T Best 7, 45, Sterling 20, 37, Smart 63
Conversions: O Best 8, 46
Penalties: O Best 28
Star Man: Dan Smart (Canterbury)
Referee: Adam Wookey
Halftime scoreline: Henley 10 Canterbury 20
Match photos courtesy of Steve Karpa: