Francis hat-trick ensures Hendon make a winning start to 2017

Dave Francis scored three of Hendon's four tries. Picture: Paolo Minoli

Dave Francis scored three of Hendon's four tries. Picture: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Dave Francis scored a second-half hat-trick as Hendon triumphed 29-15 away against mid-table rivals Saracens Amateurs, banking a bonus point and moving 11 points clear of the Herts/Middlesex Division One relegation zone.

The sides were locked at 10-10 but Francis touched down three times in a row to secure the Dons’ fourth victory of the campaign and take them up into seventh place, five points behind their vanquished hosts.

Hendon were playing their first game for almost a month after a lengthy Christmas break and they started nervously.

However, captain Cian Hynes kicked his side into the lead in the seventh minute, and winger Chris Kiyingi then had a try disallowed for a knock-on.

Saracens equalised with a penalty of their own before the interval and, although Hendon went back in front with a converted try as Arwel Roberts chased his own kick and touched down in the corner, the visitors replied in kind again, using their heavier pack to equalise.

Saracens were unable to keep pace with the Dons for long though. Donal O’Sullivan led a charge to set up a 5m scrum, and Francis then moved from his position at openside flanker to the number eight role and crashed through the defence to score, with Hynes converting.

Hendon were now dominant and, when Toby Ikwueke was stopped short of the line after an individual run, a yellow card reduced Saracens to 14 men.

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Instead of kicking the penalty, Hendon took the scrum – and again Francis switched positions, with the same result.

He completed his hat-trick inside the final 10 minutes, fielding a kick on Saracens’ 10m line and embarking on a run which took him past four defenders and over the whitewash. Saracens then scored a late pushover try in the corner.

Meanwhile, UCS Old Boys remain bottom of the table after a 71-5 defeat at second-placed Verulamians.

Elsewhere, in Herts/Middlesex Division Two, fifth-placed Haringey Rhinos made a winning start to 2017 and ensured they will be among the top six teams in the second phase of the campaign after beating Harlequin Amateurs 28-12 on Saturday.

The Rhinos started the day just four points ahead of their seventh-placed visitors, but a bonus-point victory confirmed they will be in the top half of the table when the division splits in two after their next match on January 28.

Haringey had lost their last two games of 2016 – including a 79-0 thrashing at Watford in their final game before Christmas – and they initially went 7-0 down against Quins at the weekend.

However, they hit back to level the scores, with number eight Ben Watkins drawing the defenders and offloading to centre Dan Thomas, who touched down, while fly-half Dan Rycroft added the extras.

Another converted try completed the turnaround, giving Haringey a 14-7 lead at the interval – and although they lost flanker Ben Kelly to the sin-bin, they went on to dominate the second half and extend their lead as Thomas went over again, with Rycroft converting.

Quins hit back with a score of their own but Haringey had the last word and Rycroft crashed over the whitewash before slotting over another successful kick, taking his personal tally to 13 points.

Head coach Craig Sweetlove said: “With little preparation and a few key players missing we tested the depth of our squad.

“All the lads know how well our game plan works and the players coming into the team really stepped up against a decent side.

“It was important to kickstart our season after a disappointing finish to 2016, and we have now put ourselves in a good position as the first phase of the league is almost over.”