Away bonus point win at Pulborough
80 minute performance overcomes opposition and poor conditions
Pulborough 0 Heathfield 24
Heathfield retained their position at the top of London SE3 with a disciplined four try away win at Pulborough in difficult conditions. The visitors probably outmuscled the home side who were never daunted but rarely threatened in attack.
Heathfield faced the serious breeze in the first half. Occasional drizzle combined with the wind to make this a difficult day for handling and kicking as well as providing for a fairly miserable experience for most. Thankfully the excellent surface allowed for a more open game than might have been expected in the circumstances.
While play was initially in the visitors’ half Heathfield gradually started to secure enough possession to build some forward momentum and this was a key feature on the day. The home scrummage was under some pressure and one early chance for pushover try was just denied. Then a Heathfield penalty in the home 22, which could have been kicked, was tapped and Bryn Jones went close in the left hand corner. But soon Pulborough regained possession and the wind helped a kick put them back at the other end.
Nonetheless Heathfield worked their way back up the pitch chiefly though some effective and physical forward drives with Ed Koops and Dylan Eames afterwards being picked out by other players for their efforts in this phase. At the end of the first quarter another strong Heathfield scrummage was driven on through a couple of phases and Oli Robertshaw worked his way over for the first try, well converted by Harry Reilly into the difficult wind (0-7).
Pulborough used the elements to put some pressure on the visitors’ half and were unlucky with a penalty coming back off an upright. However they were mainly being denied by Heathfield’s solid defence with Haidar Maliki and Eric Tamsen both doing the hard and inconspicuous work that provides the secure foundation for others to exploit.
After half an hour the dominant Heathfield scrummage gave Robertshaw his second try, again converted by Reilly (0-14). The lead could have been extended but a longish penalty attempt by Reilly just went wide. The half ended, after over fifty minutes elapsed time thanks to injury delays, with the home side again pressing into the visitors’ half, albeit without any real penetration.
Injuries in Heathfield training this week meant that two key jumpers were unavailable today but Eames in the middle and Maliki at the front literally rose to the occasion, providing some reassurance about depth in that area. Ethan Walker had been drafted into the back row because of injury issues and he put in a good shift on that front, although he also frequently popped up in his normal midfield gaining plenty of useful yards.
This year Heathfield have several times failed to keep their best game going for the full eighty minutes and some spectators were concerned that from this position the team might think that the hard part of the day had been done. Thankfully on this occasion they put in two solid halves.
From the restart Heathfield setup camp in the home 22 and a score looked likely at any moment as they retained possession through several phases. Eventually a relieving kick out of defence was collected by George Gomersall who set sail through the home midfield defence and finally found his equally youthful colleague Ben Boorman who finished precisely (0-19).
Gomersall had a busy and very effective game in which he could well have collected a couple of tries with slightly more rub of the green. Boorman was also noted in the later stages coming off his wing looking for work. Boorman was soon afterwards just denied in the corner by a fine cover tackle. Later in the game Gomersall and Boorman were joined by their Colt colleague Oliver Batchelor who made a brief but solid contribution illustrating Heathfield’s current young strength in depth.
Although Heathfield had majority possession and most of the second half was in the home half, they were finding it difficult to penetrate the doughty home defence who deserve much praise for their effort and good organisation on the day.
Just when some Heathfield wiseacres were starting to worry about (again!) missing a bonus point as the game entered the last ten minutes, some good all team handling gave Fraser Goatcher the ball at full trundle with at least five metres to go and he duly collected (0-24).
Pulborough were by no means a beaten team and their full back, one of their best players on the day, now ran a lovely line into the home 22 but the defence eventually contained the threat. At the other end good hands gave Gomersall a chance for a deserved try but a fine cover tackle just did enough in the left hand corner.
Next Saturday Heathfield entertain Bromley in the next round of the RFU Senior Vase (27 Feb 2.00). Bromley are clearly taking this seriously as their coach was on the touchline today, clipboard in hand, making notes. The respective league performances suggest that there is very little between the two sides so this promises to be a close and well-contested occasion. Let’s hope the weather cooperates.