Beckenham win after excellent first half hour from Heathfield
Losing bonus point worthy reward - but lessons will have been learnt
Heathfield 26 Beckenham 30
Beckenham just won an entertaining match as their greater experience (and weight) eventually overhauled a young Heathfield team who nonetheless played some of their best rugby this year. A more experienced team would have known how to defend a twenty point lead but at least Heathfield held on to a losing bonus point that the respective league positions would have suggested was unlikely.
In generally excellent conditions apart from an occasional rain squall, the first few minutes saw an exchange of penalties (3-3). However it was already clear that the home team were playing with considerable energy and commitment. Most of the play was in the visitors’ half and Sean Crozier soon collected another penalty (6-3). In the earlier fixture between these teams the Beckenham pack had dominated Heathfield but today the home scrummage had an especially good first half with at least four balls taken against the head in spite of a considerable weight difference. Ollie Stables at hooker takes much credit and he also had a decent game in the loose with some useful carries.
With fifteen minutes on the clock a Beckenham attack in midfield was turned over, the ball moved to the right wing and good hands and a boot ahead finally allowed Toby Wallace to touch down in the right hand corner. Crozier missed the conversion with his only failure on the day in this respect (11-3).
Heathfield continued to play with commitment and accuracy that had the visitors scrambling to contain the varied attacks, especially around the fringes where Lewis Headland was enjoying plentiful ball and runners offering options. A promising attack into the right hand corner ended with Fraser Goatcher held up and then Heathfield chose to tap a penalty a few yards out but the visitors just managed to scramble the ball away.
This positive approach was continued and soon good scrummage ball was moved wide to the left hand corner where Toby Warren was adjudged to have been illegally denied a try and a penalty try was duly awarded (18-3).
Warren was soon in action again with some handy runs and at this stage only one result looked likely. This was reinforced as Ollie Brown touched down in the right hand corner after several phases to complete one of the best thirty minutes of rugby played by Heathfield in recent years. (23-3). However that was almost the end of the good news for Heathfield as Beckenham thereafter began to come back into the game. For the first time they achieved a threatening position in the bottom right hand corner although a Henry Ross lineout steal thwarted them on this occasion. However Sam Goatcher now had to leave the field with a leg injury and this disruption to the back division seemed to reduce their effectiveness. Crozier, who is forming an effective half-back partnership with Headland, commented afterwards that he had been benefitting from S Goatcher’s advice. Headland. Crozier and Wallace are aged 19, 17 and 17 respectively – if you are good enough you are old enough.
David Bayly was being effective in defence and attack. Alex Wexler and Haidar Maliki both had decent all-round games with carries and tackles.
The half ended with a critical score as Beckenham finally utilised the slight slope and good support play produced a try in the bottom corner, impressively converted (23-10). This will have given the Beckenham coach something to work with in his apparently otherwise firm words to his team in the interval. The visitors chose to waste part of the interval by retiring to the changing room – perhaps the Heathfield opposition changing rooms are too comfortable so that visitors enjoy them too much?
Whatever was said it was effective and Beckenham had an increasing impact on the game and the scoreboard. The visitors’ hooker was substituted at half time and thereafter their scrummage looked more secure demonstrating that in the front row technique is at least as important as weight and bulk. Given the game position, the first score in the half was always going to be important and Beckenham were good value for a try from a number of phases. (23-17).
Although Heathfield did have some good periods of play and another Crozier penalty stretched the lead (26-17), it was becoming apparent that they were not pressuring the visitors so well as in the first half, thus allowing their big forwards to become more effective. One key moment now occurred as Wallace was binned for misjudging his challenge to his opposing winger who was collecting a high ball. The new regulations this year made a yellow card inevitable.
Beckenham duly capitalised with a try in the right hand corner (26-22). Although Heathfield were still in the lead, the momentum was with the visitors who took the lead with ten minutes remaining as they exploited a missed touch from a penalty by Heathfield. The home team were having to play catch-up as they could see the game slipping away and Beckenham were able to counter-attack and collect a penalty (26-30) that meant Heathfield needed a try for a result.
Heathfield did achieve a good position in the bottom right hand corner but Beckenham were just able to scramble the ball away thanks to a naughty hand in the scrummage.
Beckenham take much credit for having the spirit to recover from twenty points down. David Edwards in the centre was afterwards praised for his overall contribution and two tries while Pat Hooton also caught the eye with some useful carries.
Heathfield should take encouragement from their first half hour efforts and reflect upon the reasons for their subsequent under-performance.
After a week’s rest, Heathfield next travel to Bromley (11 Feb 2.30) for one of the critical matches of the season. In recent years the home side has always won in matches between these two sides and the league table suggests that this particular contest is even more significant than usual for both clubs.