Deal edge feisty contest
Heathfield rue missed chances
Heathfield 13 Deal & Betteshanger 15
Deal just denied a late Heathfield surge to claim an important away win in the tight relegation struggle at the bottom of London SE2. The match had the atmosphere of a cup match with plenty of vocal supporters from both sides and a fierce contest on the pitch. In relegation terms nothing is yet decided and the losing bonus point collected by Heathfield could be critical.
In excellent conditions but with a steady northerly breeze up the pitch, Heathfield chose to take first use of the wind. After a couple of simple errors from the kick-off, the home side settled down to play some decent rugby and soon established good position in the visitors’ half. A penalty chance duly arrived and was safely slotted by Harry Reilly (3-0). More Heathfield pressure resulted in a Deal prop being binned and the home side was pressing forward, with Fraser Goatcher making serious yards.
They did touch down from a maul on the visitors’ try line but the referee was on the other side of the pileup and understandably could not award the try.
Nonetheless more home pressure now caused the referee to indicate penalty advantage and Reilly dropped a goal (6-0). Another scrum on the visitors’ 22 was turned over and Lewis Headland dived through a gap on the blind side but was just disrupted enough as he tried to touch down.
After these two missed opportunities, some justice was done at the end of the first quarter as Heathfield now produced a memorable score. The Deal scrum, under some pressure, provided good ball which was moved wide left and it took impressive tackling by Lucas Cuming to stop the attack and turn the ball over. This enabled George Gomersall to set off on a characteristic run beating multiple defenders before finding David Bayly on a well-timed run and he had the pace to outstrip the remaining defenders (13-0).
In spite of the score Deal were often looking dangerous with their well-drilled pack and a couple of useful runners in their backs. They now pressed into the bottom right hand corner and it took a Henry Ross steal at the front of the lineout to thwart their challenge. Ross caused the visiting lineout plenty of problems and also made a couple of great tackles back in very threatening situations.
Bayly probably thought he was about to collect another try when he collected loose ball at the back of a Deal lineout but was adjudged offside. Then Bayly created a chance with a lovely chip over the defence but the awkward bounce just eluded Ross’s grasp when he was only a couple of yards out.
Given the wind assistance it was not surprising that most of the play was in the visitors’ half. However on the half hour the fierce contest boiled over with some handbags and the referee red carded a player from each team. Deal lost a centre and Heathfield were deprived of Alex Wexler who had been doing some solid graft and had a couple of useful carries.
Heathfield were probably value for more than the scoreboard was showing at halftime and the question was whether they had a big enough lead. The Heathfield scrummage generally had an edge with a couple of big drives and takes against the head, although without having complete dominance.
After some early Deal pressure in the second period had been contained, Heathfield broke out and Toby Warren and Gomersall were just denied an important score in the bottom corner by the bounce of the ball.
Deal now had a match-deciding period. First they reduced the deficit with a penalty from the 10m line (13-3). Then good hands and lines of running down the left flank produced a fine try and the scorer sensibly ran round under the post to ease the conversion (13-10). The final and decisive score came five minutes later as good back play followed by fine support work allowed a flanker to put his aside ahead (13-15).
In spite of the wind, most of the rest of the game was spent in the visitors’ 22 as Heathfield pressed for a match-winning score. Off the bench Haidar Maliki was putting in a big effort with carries and important tackles. Several wise old heads afterwards felt that Heathfield had been naïve in their options at this stage given their dominance of possession. However it is also noteworthy that the penalty count in the second half was 8-2 against the home side and several promising situations were ruined by apparent ill-discipline. Nonetheless this is a young Heathfield side who were up against more experienced opponents who just played the smarter rugby.
This was a feisty game that could have gone either way. Deal took their chances while Heathfield will try to work out how they did not take theirs.
Next Saturday Heathfield visit Hove in the knowledge that they still need more league points to secure their place at this level next season. (1 April 3.00)