Henley Hawks 46 Esher 20
National Division 2 South
Saturday March 7
Promotion chasers Henley ended Esher's five-match unbeaten run – the first encounter in a triple-pronged challenge against the top three.
Director of rugby Peter Winterbottom labelled last weekend's match as "our toughest of the season" but the tests get no easier, this Saturday's rearranged trip to second-placed Taunton Titans being followed by a visit from leaders Tonbridge Juddians on March 21.
Smarting from a setback against Clifton and against an Esher side who had not played for two weeks, after their home date with Worthing fell to the weather, Hawks went in front within moments of the kick-off as Alex Bradley brushed off a handful of challenges to set up hooker Tom Emery and then converted his try.
Tristan Roberts, returning at fly-half in place of James Chaumeton, responded through a penalty only for the visitors to find themselves in trouble again soon after. They could only look on as Reuben Norville burst from near the halfway line to touch down, the extras going to waste this time, Henley's lead extended further when Alex Burrage notched a penalty and then converted Will Janes' try for 22-3 in 17 breathless minutes.
Centre Sam Druce hit back with a converted try on 26 minutes, only for a stray pass to be intercepted by flanker Marcus Lowe, who triggered a fine move which resulted in Norville's second try.
Their bonus point secured within the first half, Hawks added a fifth try as Will Crow fed Scott White seconds from the interval, reaching the dressing room 34-10 ahead.
Jack Walsh, on as a replacement, ensured the visitors claimed their second try only to see Henley skipper Sam Lunnon notch his side's sixth despite being down to 14 men. They were to make it seven through Dave Hyde's fine effort when he capitalised on prop Ewen Fenley's industry.
At least Esher had the final word when centre Joe Beckett touched down – needing the referee to consult his touch judge before confirming the score – in the dying moments.
They will need to make a substantial improvement, though, if they are to prevent Taunton avenging a narrow 10-8 defeat at Molesey Road in November.