Much-changed Heathfield fall short in reply to strong home opening burst
Ten tries in entertaining match
Haywards Heath 38 Heathfield 24
The two ‘Heath’ sides played an entertaining if error strewn ten try match which was probably decided in the first half hour as Haywards Heath (HH) established a 26 point lead. HH deserved their win for taking their opportunities and then containing the resurgent visitors. Heathfield will take some nuanced pleasure from their recovery from such an apparently hopeless position to almost overhaul such a big lead which speaks well for the spirit in the squad.
Heathfield have already been handicapped this season by issues over availability and injuries. The starting 15 this week showed seven changes from last week. This makes coaching very difficult and this was illustrated by the start of the game after which Heathfield became far more competitive.
In excellent conditions in front of a good crowd HH had first use of the slope and they started strongly. The first try came after five minutes as HH pressed into the visitors’ 22 and a chip through looked, to the defenders, to be going dead but a home player showed determination and just touched down inside the dead ball line. The conversion, from wide out, was remarkable (7-0).
Most of the play was in the visitors’ half and soon Henry Ross
made one of his important contributions on the day with a try-saving tackle. Heathfield were now handicapped by a rib injury to winger Toby Wallace
necessitating a reshuffle with Munch May
going to scrum half and Lewis Headland
moving to the wing.
The next HH try came from a routine lineout catch and drive and although further from the side line than the first try the conversion was just as assured (14-0). The bad news for Heathfield continued with a yellow card for Toby Warren
which was soon followed by another HH try from a lineout catch and drive, albeit not converted (19-0).
Heathfield were starting to put some moves together with Alex Wexler
making the first of several good drives. However HH were generally pressing and it was no surprise, albeit outrageously jammy, when just before the half hour a kick ahead bounced agonisingly away from defenders into the welcoming arms of the HH player who strolled under the posts for the bonus point try (26-0).
Rather than falling apart Heathfield had much the better of the rest of the half. The penalty count against HH started to rise, finally resulting in a yellow card for the home number 8. Heathfield now set up camp in the home top corner and hammered away mainly though scrum and lineout. Scrums were reset and penalties declined to take scrums. Another home yellow card would not have been a surprise. Finally Olly Stables
muscled his way over for an important score, converted by Harry Reilly
Given the slope in their favour in the second half and this try, Heathfield will have had hopes of rescuing even this impossible situation. This became less than a distant dream when a lineout was properly exploited and skipper Gus Taylor claimed the try (26-12). Warren Wright
, making a welcome and effective return to first team duty, was now replaced by Tom Pritchard
who has also been away from this level for a while. Heathfield were clearly targeting the bottom corners with fine kicking out of hand and they duly exploited this with yet another lineout catch and drive, touched down by May who had a typically combative game under severe pressure Reilly converted well (26-19).
At this stage the momentum was with Heathfield and the home alarm bells will have been ringing. The Heathfield scrummage, in spite of some unexpected variations, were now on top with the returning Olly Smith making an impact alongside Olly Stables
and 'Shrek' Watkins. The lineout was working well albeit with too much use of Ross. But HH now showed they would not be denied as a penalty gave them position in the top right hand corner and good support work provided a deserved try (31-19). A remarkable passage of play all over the pitch followed with Heathfield again going for good position in the bottom corner only for HH to break out with Ross making yet another outstanding tackle back only for the ball to elude his grasp and a following HH player had an easy score (38-19).
Although a win now looked beyond reach the visitors still had hopes of a try bonus point with 15 minutes still on the clock and they generally had the best of this period. Pressing again into the bottom corner a penalty was tapped and May was just denied by the last defender by a high tackle with the offender being duly binned. Hopefully someone will explain why a penalty try was not awarded. Nonetheless justice in this respect was soon done as from a 5 metre scrum May fed Headland who finished well to collect the try bonus point.
In spite of the good conditions there were too many handling errors by both sides for either coaching teams to be happy. It is also noteworthy that at least four tries (2 apiece) came from routine lineout catch and drives.
For Heathfield two players in particular stood out. Nick Cook
had a stomping game, especially in attack where he frequently worked and wriggled his way through multiple tacklers. But Ross was the star on the day with lineout takes under pressure, tackles all over the pitch and some decent carries.
In recent years Heathfield have had difficulty away from home and this pattern would appear to be continuing, but at least they secured a bonus point which could well yet again be important next April. Heathfield will look forward to entertaining Haywards Heath in the return fixture just before Xmas, not least to repay some fine hospitality, but also to put in a full eighty minute performance.
Next Saturday (23 Sept 3.00) Heathfield entertain Old Alleynians who have already achieved an outstanding win away at Charlton Park this season so Heathfield’s normally decent home record will be under pressure.