Esher 17 Henley Hawks 39

National Division Two South

Saturday February 12

SIX tries by Hawks blitzed leaders Esher – knocking them off the top of the table and ending a 12-match unbeaten run.

Peter Winterbottom’s side had not been beaten since October 9, when they had visited Henley, and could have no complaints about a thorough trouncing in which the visitors crossed the line three times inside the first 15 minutes.

Redruth returned to pole position and have a cushion of three points, although Esher still have a match in hand and the collision of the two at Molesey Road on February 26 may prove decisive in who takes the title.

It did not augur well for the hosts that an incident in the warm-up meant fly-half Sam Morley could not take to the pitch until after half time, forcing a late reorganisation, and Esher badly missed the flair and kicking ability of their key man, not least after such an inspirational performance in the victory over Guernsey seven days earlier.

Hawks took full advantage, with the wind at their backs, centre James Davies storming through on a break within four minutes and benefitting from missed tackles to touch down, Monty Bradbury converting.

Alex Harmes spotted another hole in the home defence seven minutes later, Bradbury making it 14-0 and quickly being back in the action as a chip over the Es defence allowed wing Reuben Norville to speed past and touch down, the extras seeing a 21-point gap opening up.

Not that Esher were without opportunities, Jack Lavin missing a penalty and handling mistake wasting chances to hit back, but a sustained spell in Henley territory created the space for wing Tom James to go over, Lavin’s conversion striking a post.

Hopes it would signal the start of a counter-attack were snuffed out, the hosts failing to make the most of a rolling maul which seemed destined for the line and then losing two lineouts. They paid for it when flanker Sam Lunnon secured the bonus point try for his side on 31 minutes, Bradbury also finding the wind a challenge as his conversion struck an upright.

A yellow card for Sam Hall approaching half time and resulting penalty enabled Es to hit back and give their supporters a sliver of optimism. A rolling maul set up lock Hugo Sloan to touch down, another conversion going astray, but Bradbury was on target at the other end to afford Henley a 19-point cushion going into the second half.

Stern resistance was required by Esher to protect their own line in the opening moments of the second half, after which the Es spent long periods at the other end of the pitch but they could make few inroads, despite Morley’s presence and having the wind in their favour now. Debutant forward Chandler Cunningham-South, from the London Irish Academy, had a mixed debut as he added heft to the hosts but was sent to the sinbin.

Davies claimed his second try with nine minutes remaining, intercepting a pass and racing from deep in his own half for an unconverted effort, and although Morley improved his afternoon by scoring at the other end and converting, full-back Guy Rawsthorn ensured Hawks deservedly had the final word in completing their double.

Now Es must concentrate on rediscovering the winning touch at Hinckley on Saturday, having inched past the Leicestershire side 34-33 back in October.

Fixtures – February 19: Hinckley (A); 26: Redruth (H); March 5: Clifton (A); 12: Westcliff (H); 19: Worthing (A); 26: Albanian (A); April 2: Guernsey (A); 9: Bury St Edmunds (H); 16: Canterbury (A); 23: Worthing (H); 30: Rochford (A).