Henley 2nd XV 17 | 24 Colchester Ravens
Huge team performance boosts Ravens up to 10th in the Zoo League
The Ravens made the long journey to Henley with a much-changed team from that which competed so well against Tring the week before. Late withdrawals and unavailability meant that the team travelled with only one reserve and Pip Churchyard (the team physio) playing in the back row. The weather conditions were very cold and very wet and the Henley ground staff had reluctantly agreed to allow the game be played on the first XV pitch, much to the delight of the support (both travelling and home) who could take advantage of the covered stand.
With no recognised hooker, Troy Palmer was an able stand in at rake – the weather conditions were certainly not going to help his throwing in, with Rory Miller being the main target. Colchester started the game strongly and soon pitched camp on the Henley goal line. Wave after wave of pick and go attacks from the base of rucks were repelled by the home defence until Toby Hill (back in the Ravens after a few weeks with the 1st XV) crashed over from short range for a converted try. Shocked by this early score, Henley were soon defending their line again – this time Thomas Gallacher crashing over for another try to make the score 0 – 12. The Ravens scrum held the upper hand for the second week running, with Alex “Salad” Mitchell again having the better of his opposite number. Henley scrum ball soon became an attacking weapon for the Ravens as they turned over scrum after scrum. In spite of conceding several scrum penalties, Henley managed to keep 15 players on the pitch. Henley then roused themselves and went on the attack. Lewis Williams was yellow carded for a cynical offence and Henley scored an unconverted try. As half time approached, the Ravens defence appeared to be holding firm until the Henley right winger scored in the corner after a series of attacks. This try also went unconverted to make the half time score 10 – 12.
Team manager (and inside centre) for the day Adam Cook roused the team during half time with a stirring speech which could probably be heard at the Leander Club down by the Thames and the Ravens started the second half in the same manner as the first. From a Ravens line out on the Henley 22, Thomas Gallagher burst through several tackles on his way to the try line for his second and the Ravens third try, sadly not converted. Then came the Ravens bonus point score, as James Parry swerved through the Henley defence, only to be taken down whilst scoring by a very high swinging arm – penalty try and another seven points to the Ravens. The ensuing brawl in the Henley in-goal area resulted in a dressing down for both captains by the referee but surprisingly no further punishment for Henley, as the home side kept 15 players on the field. Henley then started to ring the changes, emptying their considerable bench as the Ravens, unsurprisingly began to tire. The scrum battle was still one-sided in spite of fresh Henley legs but the Henley backs started making inroads, resulting in a third try, this time with a successful conversion. The Ravens only replacement then made an appearance but was soon back on the touch line having been yellow carded for taking a Henley player out in the air. This was perhaps the critical point in the game – Henley had an attacking line out deep in the Ravens 22, looking for the equalising score. With not many minutes left on the clock and the Ravens seemingly out on their feet the game was there to be won (or lost). Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as Thomas Gallacher latched on to the Henley ball in the ensuing maul – turnover to the Ravens. A strong run out of the 22 by Rory Miller then took play up to the half way line where much to the relief and elation of the team and the travelling support, the referee blew for full time.
Final score Henley 2nd XV 17 – Colchester Ravens 24 – a well-deserved bonus point victory and an inspiring, gutsy team performance. From 1 to 16 the team performed admirably against their National 2 counterparts, who were stunned from the first whistle by the ferocity of their defence and the robustness of the forward pack.