All Blacks fight back to beat Hawks at Polson
This far from eye-catching scoreline masks a stunning 19-15 National Two South triumph for the Cornish All Blacks over the promotion-hopefuls from Oxfordshire, who had come to Polson confident of a win, however narrow.
They got a shock. In the words of All Blacks' skipper Tom Rawlings: "This was a big, big win for us, probably our biggest test so far."
Second-placed Henley Hawks had clocked up more on-pitch points by far than any other club in the division – 732 to league leaders Worthing's 625 – and had lost just three of their 16 matches, on seven occasions scoring 60 points or more and eight tries. In addition they had in their ranks one of National Two South's top try-scorers in right wing Xavier André.
The All Blacks, sixth in the table, were also on a winning streak with eight scalps from their last nine outings, including that of high-flying Hartpury College away.
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That said, from the outset Henley looked the business, their fast back line attacking with a daunting directness, and their big pack, with its two huge locks Josh McNally and Dai Clemens, a powerful force.
For most of the first half they attacked relentlessly with the All Blacks defending for their lives, their visits to their opponents' territory numbered on the fingers of one hand.
By the interval they were trailing 15-3 and had conceded 11 penalties, their frustration at being constantly pinned back erupting into ill-discipline, with No.8 Josh Lord and skipper Rawlings sin-binned within a minute of each other at the start of the second quarter.
Henley centre Danny Wells, who scored all his side's points, kicked an early penalty, and in the 20th minute crossed for a try, released by hooker Liam Dwyer from a line-out in the home 22.
Four minutes from the interval Wells was over again, as further unrelenting forward driving and three-quarter running culminated in McNally brushing through tackles to send Wells in and to add the conversion.
Henley full-back Martin Nutt was now yellow-carded for engaging in fisticuffs; and when home centre Neilson Webber was obstructed in injury time, All Black full-back Kieron Lewitt – whose pin-point kicking accuracy was a key factor in his team's victory – landed his side's only first half points. At the break it was 15-3 to Henley with the second half promising more of the same.
But Henley emerging with only a 12-point advantage after 40 minutes of overwhelming possession was the clue to what was to come.
The All Blacks' heroic defence, refusal to buckle, and indomitable determination turned the game around completely. Henley didn't score again and by the end had lost both their shape and their momentum and seemed totally bemused.
In the meantime the resurgent Cornish had gone from strength to strength and posted 16 points.
Tom Rawlings said: "We were a bit down at half time but we sat down and we thought, well, they've had all that possession and have only scored twice.
"We thought, come on, we've hardly had the ball yet they've only got 15 points. We had tackled well and were strong when it mattered. We took it from there and Kieron was unbelievable with the boot, and we're over the moon really."
A minute from the re-start Lewitt kicked his second penalty (for offside) and after replacements all round and the yellow-carding of McNally for foul play, the All Blacks went to town, now in turn pinning an increasingly disorientated Henley into their own half.
Just after the hour another offside offence was punished by Lewitt's boot, and with eight minutes left came the crucial score.
Henley's pack was now in all sorts of bother, and when the All Blacks mounted a ferocious drive towards their posts, they had no answer.
Lord touched down to triumphant shouts and Lewitt added the extras.
The All Blacks had nudged ahead 16-15. The visitors' Plan A – just keep attacking and we'll score lots of points – was in shreds, and they clearly had no Plan B.
The Cornish mounted drive after drive and when Henley came in at the side Lewitt slotted his fourth goal. Five minutes to go. The All Blacks stuck to the ball like glue and a remarkable victory was in the bag.