All Blacks hit back to down the Hawks
Cornish All Blacks 19, Henley Hawks 15
CORNISH All Blacks produced a superb second-half comeback to stun promotion-chasing Henley Hawks in an absorbing contest at Polson Bridge.
It was the proverbial game of two halves, with Henley leading 15-3 at the break, but the All Blacks digging deep to come storming back and upset their second-place visitors from Oxfordshire.
It was a result and performance that delighted All Blacks head coach Cliff Rainford, who has now seen his side win eight of their last nine matches.
"In the first half, we didn't keep the ball as well as we should have done, and let Henley play a little bit too much rugby, and we ended up defending for most of that opening period, and we were relieved to go in at half-time only 15-3 down," he said.
"They are second in the league and have been putting a lot of points on teams, so to only be one or two scores down was not too bad.
"With the opportunities we got in that first half, we were also trying to score from first-phase ball, and it was never going to happen.
"We had a chat at half-time and decided to play some rugby in the second half, rather than defend for the next 40 minutes, and the guys worked really, really hard.
"We defended excellently throughout the whole game, and you also have to bear in mind that for 12 minutes we were down to only 13 men, after receiving two yellow cards, and we only conceded one score in that whole time.
"That was a massive bonus and gave us belief in what we could do, and we went out and built a score, taking points when we got into the red zone.
"Kieron Lewitt kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties, and the pack played really, really well, we got our noses in front, and then closed the game out with some really mature rugby.
"We hadn't played at home for a while, and to let our own supporters see the same sort of performance we put in away at Hartpury College was really good and really pleasing, and it was a very pleasurable afternoon, though I think I got a bit older in the last five minutes of the game!"
Rainford added: "Everybody played well, but Mike Rawlings had a massive game, as did brother Tom; the front five worked hard all through the match; Martin Rice came on with 30 minutes to go and played really well; and Kieron's kicking was unbelievable in not the best of conditions, and under the pressure of playing the second in the league team."
Henley had only suffered three defeats all season, and posted 60 points or more on teams on seven occasions this campaign, and they looked on course for another victory at the interval.
Centre Danny Wells kicked his side into a sixth-minute lead with a penalty, and finished off a break by lock Josh McNally off a line-out on the 22 to make it 8-0 by the end of the first quarter.
The loss of No.8 Josh Lord and fellow back rower and captain Tom Rawlings to sin-binnings in the space of a minute did not help the All Blacks' cause, and just before the interval, the hosts' 13 men conceded when Wells was on the end of a pass by hooker Liam Dwyer for his second try, and added the conversion.
Henley then lost full-back Martin Nutt to a yellow card after a bout of fisticuffs, and Lewitt's injury-time penalty made it 15-3 at the turnaround.
The Hawks started to wilt in the second half as the All Blacks came roaring back, and with Lewitt's boot in fine fettle, the hosts chipped away at the deficit.
Two penalties made it 15-9 against a team who also lost McNally to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle, and with 11 minutes remaining, the All Blacks took the lead, when Lord touched down after a superb drive by the forwards, and Lewitt slotted the simple conversion to give the hosts a one-point advantage.
Lewitt then provided a 72nd-minute penalty to take his own match tally to 14 points and put the icing on the cake for Rainford's men.