FIRST team manager Rick Compton felt Westcliff proved their National Two South credentials when running high-flying Henley Hawks close at the Gables.

Westcliff - who were promoted from the London & SE Premier Division last season - were beaten 26-15 by the second-placed visitors.

And the setback left Compton with mixed emotions.

“The performance was good but it was one without reward which was hugely frustrating,” said Compton.

“As ever, the lads were totally committed and left nothing out on the pitch and it’s clear progress is being made.

“The game turned on a few pivotal moments when naivety and flawed game management yielded opportunities that Henley exploited with ruthless efficiency.

“Setting that disappointment and frustration aside though, it’s clear that we can compete at the level and hard work on the training pitch will bridge the gaps and bring positive results.”

Westcliff played into the wind for the opening period but in the early minutes took the game deep into Henley territory.

They pressed hard but met firm resistance and after seven minutes a turnover ball allowed Henley to counter-attack at pace and the opportunity was clinically exploited by the visitors with number eight Sam Lunnon crossing under the posts for a try fly-half Ben Bolster converted.

The next 20 minutes followed a similar pattern with Westcliff failing to impose themselves on the scoreboard despite possession and territory to work with.

But the visitors - with the wind at their backs - converted two opportunities with precision and ruthlessness to lead 19-0.

The hosts were on the back foot but did not buckle and soon persistence and patience paid off with Billy Morrant crashing over from close range.

The conversion slipped by but a foothold in the game was established.

There was promise of further success, most notably through a decisive line break from teenager Jack Hogarth.

However, he was dragged down just short and the Henley defence held firm despite being hard pressed, although Westcliff did add a penalty before the break.

The second half was the same committed contest the first had been with both teams pressing and defending with vigour.

With an hour on the clock, the breakthrough arrived when a forced turnover on the midfield gain line was gathered by Chris Marsh, who outstripped the covering defence on the long run in by a fraction to slide over the try line.

Greg Bannister added the conversion and with a little under 20 minutes to go the teams were within four points of each other.

However, Henley stood firm and hit back with a converted try of their own in the 71st minute to seal their win and deny second from bottom Westcliff a losing bonus point.

Westcliff: Bannister, James, B Reynolds, Whiting, Hogarth, Croft, Bolton, Dellas, Morrant, Bineman, Scogings, Dartnell, Lynch, Vandermolen, S Reynolds

Replacements: Richmond, Triana, Meakin, Hussey & Marsh