Cinderford hit back to draw
A THRILLING second-half comeback was not enough to earn Cinderford their second National One win of the season as they were held by Henley Hawks.
The hosts turned a 19-point deficit around to lead going into the final quarter, but a score from Henley levelled matters.
The second-half performance was exactly what boss Andy Deacon has been waiting for all season.
Forwards coach Lee Fortey believed the spirit in which the Foresters fought back in the second half was a true representation of the Cinderford brand.
He said: "I thought it was a great performance, the best rugby we've played all season.
"The boys showed a lot of character, a lot of heart and showed what the Cinderford brand is all about.
"They are playing a lot more for each other. The beliefs are there, the skill level is there, it's just buying into what we put down as coaches.
"They've just got to implement it on the field. We've still got to get our game management right and then it will happen."
With Mark Davies (back) just one of the 16 Foresters sidelined with injury, Mike Wilcox put in a self-assured and dominant performance at fly-half.
The Hawks, playing with the wind, were the first to make a mark on the scoreboard.
Cinderford were penalised for being offside, and fly-half James Comben kicked the easy penalty between the posts to make it 3-0 within less than five minutes.
It was soon 10-0, as former Cinderford scrum-half Luke Carter broke through from a scrum to ground the ball under the posts.
Accurate Comben again added the extras, and Henley were in danger of running away with it.
But Cinderford responded in just the right way minutes later.
The Hawks were penalised for not binding in the scrum, and the tireless Wilcox booted the ball deep into the Hawks' 22.
From a line-out, the Foresters applied the pressure in a driving maul, before eventually feeding to scrum-half Danny Pointon to sidestep past the defender and crash over.
Wilcox's conversion sailed wide, and Cinderford were 10-5 down.
The Hawks were effective in breaking through the gainline, while Cinderford's defensive line was sometimes slow to take shape.
In touchline-to-touchline attacking play, Henley created space for winger Jaryd Robinson to scramble over in the 20th minute.
Comben's conversion hit the post, as the Hawks moved 10 points clear of the hosts.
The abrasive Hawks pack were overpowering Cinderford in the scrum and maul, and putting the Foresters under real pressure at the breakdown.
But Cinderford turned ball over in the Hawks' 22 and after patiently playing it wide, Wilcox outsmarted the defence to ground the ball, while his conversion again sailed wide.
Cinderford had a foothold in the game at 15-10 but needed more composure in attack to capitalise on their chances.
The Hawks' power was starting to tell.
From a driving maul just minutes later, the visitors bullied the ball over the line, Cinderford powerless to stop prop Hugo Milford-Scott grounding it.
Comben converted to make the score 22-10.
Captain and usually skilful number eight George Evans had his head in his hands just before the whistle went for half-time.
After creative attacking phases, Evans took his eye off the ball and Comben intercepted his pass, before offloading to Ryan Long to score, leaving Cinderford 29-10 down at the break.
But Cinderford started the second half brightly.
With Wilcox as dynamic playmaker, Cinderford capitalised on sustained possession and territory.
Wilcox and winger Chris Hawkins came close to scoring, before Hawley evaded last-ditch tackles to cross over in the corner.
Wilcox added the extras from the touchline and the comeback had begun.
Wilcox and Hawkins linked up minutes later to send the winger over the line, the fly-half again adding the extras.
The pressure was telling as Hawks began to make mistakes.
Penalised on their try-line, Evans almost made amends for his error in the first half but was held up before the try-line, allowing George Mills to crash over.
And with Wilcox's conversion, Cinderford led 31-29.
The fly-half added three points after booting a penalty from 45m out, and Cinderford were 34-29 ahead.
But the Hawks pushed for a score, and it came to them.
Cinderford were penalised for coming in at the side of the maul, and from the resulting five-metre lineout, Robbie Stapley muscled his way over for the try.
Comben's potential match-winning conversion hit the post to leave the score 34-34 at the final whistle.
CINDERFORD: S Hawley, N Codlin (A Frame 40), J Adams, S Hanks, C Hawkins, M Wilcox, D Pointon (C Stuart-Smith 67), C Bundy (W Davis 52), T Bozzard (F Sinclai, 52), E Booley, T Hicks, E King, J Garner, G Mills (M Brown, 75), G Evans.
HENLEY HAWKS: L O'Neill, N Baggett, J Robinson, M Nutt (c), C Incledon, J Comben, L Carter (M Bruce 75), H Milford Scott, A Brennan (W Woodward 65), A Penny, D Clements, J McNally, L Dwyer, R Long, R Stapley (T Haynes 69). Replacements: S Stevenson, A Lubbock.
REFEREE: Phillip Davies
STAR MAN: Mike Wilcox