By MARK BENGOECHEA
PETER WINTERBOTTOM says Esher face their biggest challenge of the season when they travel to promotion-chasing Henley Hawks on Saturday.
The Thames Valley side are riding high in third place in National Two South, just two points behind leaders Tonbridge with six matches left of an absorbing title race.
Henley's hopes suffered a setback last Saturday when they went down 20-10 to Clifton in a game switched to the artificial pitch at Dings Crusaders, their third defeat in their last five games.
So they will be eager to bounce back at Dry Leas as they go in search of the double after inflicting Esher's heaviest home defeat of the season in November when they emerged 34-13 victors.
That scoreline disguises an extraordinary match in which Esher looked in control at half-time, 13-0 to the good and having had chances to be even further ahead.
However, the Hawks came out firing from the restart and grew in confidence, helped by a series of Esher errors plus the sin-binning of Tom James, and rattled up 34 points without reply.
The Eees, on a five-match unbeaten run, will be eager to set the record straight but Director of Rugby Winterbottom is all too aware of the size of the task. He said: "It's probably our biggest test of the season so far. They are certainly one of the title contenders but we're confident, we have trained well, and if we get our game together, I think we have the firepower to upset them.
"Their second-half performance against us, we came very much second best to them. They are a side that play good rugby when you give them time and space. We gave away a few penalties in that second half and Tom James got sin-binned so it was a catalogue of errors, allied to their improved second-half performance.
"So, it would be nice to set the record books straight and come away with a win. I think this side has started to be very cohesive now and obviously we're going there to get a victory."
Esher's home game against Worthing was postponed last Saturday but they travel to Henley hoping to extend their five-match unbeaten run as they embark on a tough run of games against the promotion contenders.
The following week the Surrey side travel to second-placed Taunton and host leaders Tonbridge at Molesey Road seven days later.
Winterbottom names the same starting line-up against Henley that was due to face Worthing but there is one change on the replacements bench with George Young stepping up for the injured Osh Kearney.