Hawks swoop late to steal the points

OAs slip to sixth after first defeat of the season

National League 2 South

Old Albanian 17 Henley Hawks 19

IF Henley’s flanker, Ryan Newman, was celebrating making the vital breakthrough with his side’s only try, he must surely have bought one for his full-back, James Comben, who converted his try with the scores tied at 17-17 to take an eventually unassailable lead.

At that point it looked like OAs all the way as they were three tries to nil in the lead at 17-12 and sniffing out a fourth bonus point try.

It will perplex director of rugby, James Shanahan, as he reviews this match with his coaching team to pinpoint quite how and where OAs contrived to lose this enthralling match. A promising start by Henley saw them with the lions’ share of possession for the first 30 minutes but they only had two Comben penalties to show for all their pressure. Credit is due to the hard-tackling back row of Andy Daish, Ollie Cooper-Millar and Rob Farenheim as they resisted wave after wave of attacking rugby.

The Henley coaching team will also scratch their heads as to why they did not take a twenty-odd point lead into half time, although it has to be said that Henley appeared to be their own worst enemies as they got in each others’ way, turned over golden possession and contrived to lose line-outs from desperate OA clearances.

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A carefree attitude towards the Laws by OAs helped their cause enormously; a penalty count of 7-2 against the home side in the first thirty minutes told its own story. And yet – it was almost as if Henley, who looked larger than life and fitter than a pack of butchers’ dogs, tired temporarily and it let OAs back into the game.

As so often happens, Chris ‘Bomber’ Lombaard at No.12, awoke to find himself with a gift of an interception and ran 25 metres up the middle of the pitch before being brought down and the ensuing ruck ended with a Henley line out on their 22 metre line.

A fortuitous tap down straight to Wes Cope meant another Henley line-out lost, a quick pass to fly-half James Shanahan and on to a grateful Lombaard who touched down behind the posts. Full-back, Zac Vinnicombe, had his only conversion success to give OAs a slender lead at 7-6.

Inspired by this and with only five minutes to go to half time, a forward drive followed a rare OAs penalty which Shanahan kicked to the Henley five metre line for an OA lineout win, maul and drive over the line with loose-head prop, Charlie Hughes, emerging with hugs and kisses all round. Henley, instead of being some 20 points in front as they threatened to do went into half time nursing a 12-6 deficit.

With some bravado, OAs emerged from half time before the 10 minutes were up and continued their warm up routines. Quite what effect that had on Henley cannot be said, but it took little time for them to resume their attacking game of the first part of the first half. On cue, OAs also coughed up penalties until Comben found his aim and narrowed the score to 12-9 after nine minutes.

Fortunately this had a galvanising effect on the Woollams men who only took another eight minutes to score their third try. A neat crossfield kick from the base of a ruck from scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Bruzilier spun the ball up from OAs’ 22 up to their opponents’ 22 metre mark via a Shanahan penalty touch finder. A tidy take in the line by skipper, Marc Comb, allowed a drive to develop and prop Marco Cecere scored his second try in three games.

At 17-9 all seemed set fair for an OAs win and a shot at the bonus point for four tries. A bonus point did come OAs’ way but for losing by less than seven points as Henley ground their way back into the game again.

Replacement lock, Lloyd Bickle will rue his yellow card on 10 minutes from time in the middle of a Henley attack close to the home side’s line. The defence on the left wing will also be mortified as Newman showed them a clean pair of heels to run 25 metres to score three minutes later and to carve his way infield to make Comben’s kick easier. OAs’ response was laudable, but to rely for the second match in a row on a last-minute Shanahan drop kick to snatch the lead was stretching the club’s luck a bit far.

Yes, OAs missed – in no particular order – Gregg, Adams, White and Laws through unavailability, yes the penalty count was miserable, yes three tries were scored against one but this was a match that the home side could and should have won. As it is, Henley missed any bonus and dropped to second in the league behind Richmond, whilst OAs dropped from fifth to sixth and next week promises no favours as a long away trip awaits to free-scoring Lydney who has already scored eighty-five points in three games.

OAs: Vinnicombe, May, Spiers, Lombaard, Marchon, Shanahan, Bruzilier, Hughes, Cope, Cecere, Comb �, Gillings, Farenheim, Cooper-Millar, Daish.

Reps: Bailey, Ormesher, Bickle, Evans, Gregory.