National 2 South

Taunton Titans 31, Henley Hawks 42

TAUNTON Titans saw their nine-match winning streak come to an end as Henley Hawks ran out deserved 42-31 victors at the Commsplus Stadium.

In a performance littered with defensive mistakes, Taunton never truly looked like collecting a 10th straight success and were playing catch-up from the off after a dreadful start.

Following the club's pre-match remembrance service, which featured a marching band and an impeccably observed minute's silence, Henley flew out the traps and exploited the worrying gaps in the home backline to score two early tries.

Marcus Lowe and David Hyde were the beneficiaries, the forwards sprinting over from close range after swift breakaways that left the Titans outnumbered, and both scores were converted by George Jackson as the Hawks opened up a 14-0 lead within 10 minutes.

The hosts' sluggish opening continued as Kieran Hill's restart after the second try didn't go the requisite 10 yards, and within minutes a Jackson penalty had extended the lead yet further.

The Titans eventually jolted into action and got themselves on the board when Lewis Webb darted over from close range following the first of several line-breaking runs by captain Nick Mason.

Any chance the hosts had to build momentum was passed up, however, as with their next attack Henley made use of another overlap and winger Xavier Andre, who was a threat throughout, touched down in the corner.

The conversion made it 24-5 and left Taunton with a mountain to climb after just half an hour, but the hosts refused to give in and Ollie Rice did well to scamper over for a score which Hill converted to reduce the deficit.

A monster penalty from the halfway line on the stroke of half-time ensured Henley went into the break with a 27-12 advantage, and the Titans really needed the next score if they were to launch a second half comeback.

That made what happened next all the more extraordinary, as Henley gathered their own restart and full-back Liam O'Neill swept aside numerous attempted tackles to stroll over within 30 seconds of the restart.

With 20 points to make up, Taunton went on the offensive and, after riskily trying to run the ball out from their own tryline, Henley conceded a scrum five metres out which led to a period of sustained pressure.

Following several stoppages, the Titans eventually had something to show for their efforts when Sam Prior bundled over for a converted try but, as in the first period, the hosts went to sleep immediately after scoring and paid the price.

Andre was the man to take advantage as the visitors again exploited their seemingly constant overlap and the winger did the rest, stepping inside full-back Toby East to score an unconverted try.

Yellow cards were then shown to replacements on either side, with Taunton's Brett Harvey on the field for a matter of seconds before being sent back to the sidelines, and the hosts soon secured their four-try bonus point when the two centres combined to devastating effect.

Tom Popham started the move with a fine run and, before being tackled, was able to offload to his captain Mason to finish the job.

The conversion made it 26-37 with enough time left for a dramatic revival, and Taunton nearly made things very interesting indeed but Freddie Fraser was forced into touch after another Mason burst.

Henley then put the game to bed when Lowe went over on the left hand side and, though replacement Rob Allen crossed late on, Taunton were left licking their wounds after a display which fell a long way below the standards they have set themselves so far this season.

The hosts were missing key players - Ratu Vakalutuakli, Aron Struminski and Gary Kingdom were all absent for a variety of reasons - but that can be no excuse for the defensive lapses and slow starts to both halves which ultimately cost them the game.

Nine wins from 10 still represents a fine start, however, and the Titans will look to bounce back at London Irish Wild Geese next weekend.

Taunton Titans: Connor Baker, Christopher Francis, Isaac Dalton, Stuart Persey, Blake Lugg, James Fleming, Dan Frost, Sam Prior; Lewis Webb, Kieran Hill, Ollie Rice, Tom Popham, Nick Mason, Freddie Fraser, Toby EastReplacements: Alex Spurdle, James Kenny, Brett Harvey, Rob Allen, Connor Banks.