DURABLE ESHER OVERCOME HAWKS AND THE ELEMENTS AT RAIN-LASHED DRY LEAS
HENLEY HAWKS (3) 8
ESHER RUGBY (10) 13
Pens: Daniels (2)
All the points scored on Saturday afternoon can be viewed over on the Club's YouTube channel, with highlights filmed by the excellent Nick Richards.
Esher kicked-off the second half of the season with a hard-fought 13-8 win against a Henley side which showed plenty of attacking intent, though ultimately succumbed to just a third home league defeat in two years.
A typical Mike Macfarlane score, powering over from 10 metres midway through the first half, along with eight points from the boot of top scorer Luke Daniels, ensured the men from Molesey Road came out on the right side of the scoreline, keeping them neatly tucked in behind Doncaster Knights and Rosslyn Park in the league standings as 2013 draws to a close.
Alex Penny’s try just after the interval was reward for the prop’s performance, especially in the loose, but with James Comben missing a straightforward conversion attempt and then struggling with the wind as the game wore on, it wasn’t to be for Nigel Dudding’s side.
After securing bonus point wins in their last two outings to make up for a disappointing November, the visit to Oxfordshire was always going to be a tough ask for Esher, given the host side’s outstanding home record, and their growing confidence after returning to the third tier of English rugby following a sustained absence.
In a late change to the Esher side, Brandon Walker was called up into the second-row after Kris Chesney was ruled out, with Cardinals and Club sevens captain, Richard Smart, replacing the South African on the bench. The popular flanker, who joined last summer, leaves imminently for Sandhurst to pursue a career in the Army and he goes with the best wishes of everyone associated with Esher. An excellent rugby player and thoroughly humble young man, he’ll always be welcomed back with open arms.
The in-form Daniels slotted a relatively simple penalty early on to settle his side after a lively start from Henley and that gave the men in black and amber a platform on which to build. Walker and Macfarlane, for whom the moniker ‘Mr Dependable’ was surely coined for, soon had their hands on the ball but with the wind and rain becoming increasingly incessant, negotiating the conditions was going to be vital.
Comben’s penalty soon restored parity as the Hawks, backed by a crowd which seemed considerably larger than the published figure, began to quicken the tempo with debutant full-back Ed Yarnton, previously on the books of Blaydon, Penny and Robbie Stapley seeing plenty of action.
As the conditions worsened, handling became difficult, with frustrating slips and knock-ons but the encounter continued to engross, much to the credit of both sets of players. Comben was not going to betray his natural ball-in-hand instincts, with Esher, sensibly, opting to rely on their big men up front due to the wind going against them.
Macfarlane duly crossed for the game’s first try after Robbie Shaw’s swipe and snipe saw him carry his men into the red zone, and the No.8 picked up to sweep past three men and slide in under the posts. Daniels’ conversion pushed Esher a score in front and for all their zest and zip, the onus was now firmly on the Hawks to step up a gear.
They responded, with Yarnton looking threatening every time he got his hands on the ball and Penny relishing the contact like a bee does honey. The situation called for composure and in half-backs Shaw and Mickey Wilson, Esher had two men directing operations with the maturity and quality that they’ve shown on grander stages.
Using his boot to full effect, Wilson was happy to keep turning the Hawks whenever a build-up of pressure threatened to yield points, and he was backed up by team-mates hunger for defensive work. Cameron Gentles and skipper Neil Sweeney were the men motoring forward to ensure Henley would go in at the break without a try to show for their efforts, but still very much in the contest.
Led by Penny, they came out with real intent after their energy supplements, and it was the big prop who instigated the move that led to him eventually scoring.
His burst down the blindside saw him slip the ball, from the tightest of angles, to Stapley on his outside and the hulking back-rower was in the clear. Shaw hauled him down just short but with quick ball, Xavier Andre was for all the world going to score only to fumble the opportunity. Nonetheless, the Hawks quickly regained their composure, with Luke Carter teeing up Penny after a number of phases. He quite literally ran over his man to touch down and it was deserved, for him and his team.
Now kicking into the wind, Comben’s attempt to improve the score sailed wide and it was an indicator to the problems he faced in the second 40. A bitter gust, combined with cursing rain, saw the trajectory of the ball become a lottery but the aerial route was the favoured one for the Hawks, much to the frustration of their faithful in the main stand.
A second Daniels penalty was welcome for Esher, coming fairly quickly after Penny’s try and it proved to be the final scoring act of a game which continued to promise much, though became fractured as the weather firmly ensconced itself upon Dry Leas.
Dudding made changes early on after the re-start to try and give his group a fresh impetus and there was a reaction. As the clock ticked on, frustrations began to come to the surface and it threw in another ingredient to an already full mixing pot. The Hawks, as they had shown so ably in the game between the two sides in early September, were never going to give in the fight and the endeavour was evident right up to the final whistle, but they ran into an Esher side that was not going to be denied.
Phase after phase of close quarter work from the men up top, joined by Andy Wright for good measure, drew the sting out of the game, with a couple of late penalties sapping time and Henley resolve to ensure a job well done for Esher.
With proceedings brought to an end by referee Philip Davies, those watching quickly shuffled their way back into the relative warmth of the clubhouse and, after taking note of the incoming scores from around the National Leagues, the low scoring affair they had just witnessed seemed to be in line with the results across National One and Two North and South. However, in terms of commitment, intrigue and gusto, this one was right up there – with a sprinkling of quality, just for good measure.
The league now breaks for the Christmas and New Year period, before resuming on Saturday, 4th January. Esher will welcome Blaydon to Hersham, with the Crow Trees club in a rich vein of form that saw them sign off 2013 with a 51-7 thrashing of local rivals Tynedale today. Kick-off for that one is at 2pm.
Henley Hawks: Yarnton; Andre, Nutt (c), Allen, O’Neill; Comben, Carter; McLeod, Dwyer, Penny; Woodward, McNally; Allen, Long, Robbie Stapley.
Replacements: Maddocks for McLeod (48), Connor Stapley for McNally (58), Haynes for Long (61), Perry for Andre (44).
Not used: Steventon
Ref: Mr. Philip Davies