SSE National League One – Saturday, 14th September @ Molesey Road, 3pm
Esher looking to tame Hawks as home campaign begins
After kicking off the season with a hard-fought win over Richmond last weekend, Esher return to Molesey Road for their opening home game of the season, against last year’s National Two South champions, Henley Hawks.
The Hawks marked their return to level three rugby with a stunning, seven-try, 51-17 win over Tynedale whilst Esher were grinding their way over the line in south-west London, and, after scoring over 1,200 points en route to promotion last term, it’s clear that head coach Nigel Dudding’s side will be a real handful.
Despite a number of years in the relative wilderness of National Two, the Hawks have been knocking on the door of promotion for a number of years now, and overcame the challenge of Worthing late in the season to claim the one automatic promotion slot, leaving their opponents with the lottery of a play-off.
A summer of stability has seen the Dry Leas outfit retain the vast majority of last year’s senior squad, but they lost outstanding talents in Will Robinson and Nathan Morris to London Welsh – who’ve also muscled in on the Hawks' Oxfordshire patch – as well as utility back Jonah Holmes, to another GKIPA Championship club in Leeds Carnegie.
The core, though, remains. Full-back Liam O’Neill is on the books of London Wasps, Xavier Andre is a try-machine out on the wing, with back-row forward Robbie Stapley also a rich source of scores. He scored 18 tries from the base of the scrum last year, whilst Andre notched up one more. Throw in the likes of captain Martin Nutt, Matt Payne, former Esher winger Richard Briggs and the talented James Comben at ten, and it’s easy to see just why the Hawks score so heavily.
Esher forwards coach Ricky Nebbett was on media duty in mid-week, and acknowledged that his men were in for another stern examination this weekend.
“Every week is a challenge in this league and it’s a long, hard slog. You have to be switched on game after game, and after such an intense 80 minutes last week, where we expended as much as we did mentally as we did physically, it’s been a case of getting the boys gently into speed going into what will be a quicker game against Henley,” he said.
“Richmond wanted to hit us on the counter whenever they could but I think Henley will probably want to come at us right from the off. We know our defence is going to be sternly examined, but we’ve worked very hard on our attacking patterns during the week, and I know Kibbs and Craig will be asking more from the boys going forward.
“There’s a lot of travelling in National One and winning on the road is incredibly tough, which is why every team will be looking to put points on the board at home. We are no different in that respect, but Henley showed last week that the step up in league isn’t a problem for them, and we will be treating them with the respect they deserve.”
Tries from new boys Tom Whelan and Jay Udo-Udoma, as well as a last-gasp effort from Spencer Sutherland, were enough to see off a gutsy Richmond unit a week ago, with the Cardinals completing a good day for the seniors by beating a star-studded Richmond 2nd XV, 13-10, earlier in the day.
Ashley Smith, signed from London Welsh, and former Saracens scrum-half Mickey Wilson also made their debuts in the season opener, with Nebbett expressing his belief that the teams with strength in playing resources will arguably fare better as injuries, loss of form and unavailability begin to set in.
“The spine of the team last year was pretty settled, but we blooded a lot of young players throughout the year, and that will only help us in the long term.
“The second team game last week had a number of players who had played in the National One fixture between Richmond and Esher in April, and that shows not only the quality that this league attracts, but that having a large squad is imperative.
“We’re fortunate in that though we may not have recruited as extensively as Doncaster or Coventry, for example, the faces that we have brought in add something extra. Henley are a pretty settled group and that showed in the result against Tynedale. We’ve mixed it up a little bit by bringing in one or two, and hopefully that will freshen things up a little, and keep everyone on their toes.”
Team news: Esher make three changes from the side that won the first London derby of 2013-2014 against Richmond, with Paul Olima named on the wing in place of Ashley Smith, and ready for his debut.
The only changes in the pack see hooker Simon Edwards and prop Ollie Mines come into the front row, with Neil Sweeney and Stewart Maguire reverting to the replacements’ bench.
They are joined by back-rower Brandon Walker, Robbie Shaw and Mickey Wilson.
Henley head coach Nigel Dudding has named an unchanged starting XV for their trip to Hersham, but there are two changes on the bench. Ant Brennan and Matt Payne come in for Ed Church and Tommy Haynes.
|Esher Rugby||No.||Henley Hawks|
|Luke Daniels||15||Liam O'Neill|
|Paul Olima||14||Xavier Andre|
|Jack Cooke||13||Martin Nutt (c)|
|Jay Udo-Udoma||12||Tommy Allen|
|Spencer Sutherland||11||Alan Awcock|
|Tom Whelan||10||James Comben|
|Patrick O'Grady||9||Luke Carter|
|David Millard||1||Dai Maddocks|
|Simon Edwards||2||Alex Penny|
|Ollie Mines||3||Dave Manning|
|Cameron Gentles||4||Dave Clements|
|Kris Chesney||5||Josh McNally|
|Ian Kench (c)||6||Will Woodward|
|Pete Synnott||7||Liam Dwyer|
|Mike Macfarlane||8||Rob Stapley|
|Stewart Maguire||16||Ant Brennan|
|Neil Sweeney||17||Matt Payne|
|Brandon Walker||18||Ryan Long|
|Mickey Wilson||19||Mark Bruce|
|Robbie Shaw||20||Danny Wells|