Heathfield emerged winners at the end of a fiercely contested match between two teams in bottom half of the league table that will have a significant impact on relegation at the end of the season.
Deal had first use of the slight slope and breeze in otherwise good conditions. Generally both sides tried to bring their back divisions into play but this was a tense dogfight of a match, as usual between these two clubs.
Some early Deal pressure needed good cover defence by the home backs as left wing Edward Marlow made the first of a number of impressive runs that the Deal management afterwards applauded. Heathfield gradually came back into the game including some neat handling by Nick Cook and Oli Robertshaw, Olly Smith carrying well and Lewis Headland spotting opportunities at the breakdown.
However Ethan Walker had to retire with an ankle injury which meant that Munch May came on to scrum half, Headland moving to full back and Ben Boorman to outside centre.
The visitors were keen to work the ball wide and outflanked the home defence on a couple of occasions although the cover always arrived. Deal were handicapped by their lineout having a day to forget winning just one line in the first half and perhaps three in the second. This was chiefly due to Heathfield having several good operators in this phase with Henry Ross causing trouble at the front and Cook and Ed Koops disrupting the rest.
With just three minutes left in the half Deal finally opened the scoring with a penalty (0-3) and Heathfield would probably have otherwise been pleased with that for the half time score given the conditions had favoured the visitors thus far. However from the restart Robertshaw conjured a turnover that was moved to Fabian Rimmer on the short side and he beat a couple of defenders to charge into the left hand corner. He was just denied a great score by a fine cover tackle in the corner.
At half time Warren Wright replaced Ed Koops. From the restart Heathfield sensibly targeted the bottom corner and indeed most of the third quarter was in that area. Deal managed the occasional foray upfield but gradually the home side established a stranglehold. A series of lineouts and scrums in the bottom corner tested the visitors’ defence with a steadily building penalty count and eventually the Deal loose head was binned. Fraser Goatcher now replaced Shrek Watkins although oddly Heathfield opted for a lineout rather than scrum at this point when the extra man could have been significant. Nonetheless Heathfield maintained the squeeze into the bottom corner and the Deal fly half was then binned.
The penalty count continued to rise and eventually Heathfield were awarded a penalty try as Deal were adjudged to have wheeled yet another 5 metre scrummage (7-3). At times Deal had an edge in the scrummage but Heathfield also had periods of dominance – and that was where the penalty try came from.
With nearly a quarter of the game remaining the outcome was by no means clear. Deal came charging back into the home half and pressure at the breakdown led to a yellow card for Wright for side entry although the resulting penalty slid wide. Deal again went wide and it needed a good cover tackle by Headland to deny Deal’s Marlow. Koops came back on when Wright’s bin expired as the latter seemed to be catching the ref’s eye too much.
The game was finally decided with five minutes remaining as yet another secure Heathfield lineout was worked wide and, glory be, passed down the line where Boorman found Henry Armstrong who still had plenty of work to do before touching down in the left hand corner (12-3).
The last few minutes were notable for an increasing penalty count against Heathfield as Deal showed great heart and hammered away in the home 22. In the last play Deal gave one of their props good ball in a hole in a lineout and he happily charged ahead to claim a losing bonus point for his side. This lapse in concentration by Heathfield was one of a number of points that the home coaching team will want to address.
Robertshaw was man of the match for Heathfield but Harry Reilly, May and especially Rimmer were also noted for some important defensive work.
The bottom half of the league table remains as tight as ever: this is a very competitive league which will probably go down to the last few games as usual.
After a week off Heathfield next visit Hove who are at the other end of the league table (9 Dec 2.00).