Heathfield just collect enough bonus points
Hove overcome initial visitors' strikes
Hove 34 Heathfield 28
Heathfield, although losing, did collect two league points and thus probably, but not definitely, secured their place in this league for next season. This was an entertaining and fluctuating game which reflected the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, although the Heathfield coaches might not agree with calling it entertaining given the tension over possible relegation.
In sunny conditions on a firm surface Heathfield had first use of the slight slope and a little breeze in front of a decent and good-humoured crowd with almost equal numbers of supporters from both teams. The visitors dominated the opening phases. An early Heathfield penalty was just wide but on ten minutes good hands allowed Ethan Walker to break through a couple of tackles and collect the opening score (0-5). Most of the play was in the home half and by the end of the first quarter two Harry Reilly penalties had extended the lead to eleven points.
At this stage the visiting supporters were feeling optimistic but were only too well aware of recent failings from similar positions. Indeed it felt to some that Heathfield lost intensity at this point allowing a home resurgence although this would not give credit to the home side resilience under pressure.
Hove broke into the visitors’ half for almost the first time from a hack ahead and it took good covering by George Gomersall to contain the damage. However Hove exploited the position well and after a couple of phases worked a man over under the posts (7-11).
Lewis Headland now made many yards with a characteristic break and then good hands across the pitch gave Henry Ross the opportunity to collect an excellent try, converted by Reilly (7-18).
Then just before half time Hove responded through their always dangerous back division with their own try under the posts (14-18). Hove had been much the more clinical as their points so far had come from almost their only visits to the Heathfield half.
At half time the game was in the balance. Neither side was dominating the set piece although Heathfield had a slight but not conclusive edge in the scrum.
Early Heathfield mistakes allowed the home side to take the lead that they were never to relinquish (21-18) and a home penalty soon extended the lead (24-18). Hove were now firmly on the front foot and were just denied another score in their left hand corner thanks to the honesty of their own touch judge – it doesn’t always happen so credit where due.
The home side continued to press and an attempted drop goal was just wide. The resulting drop out was caught by a Hove player but Haidar Maliki was adjudged to have tackled him the air and a yellow card was the inevitable result.
Naturally Hove looked to exploit the man advantage and soon collected their bonus point try (31-18) when Hove ran back a ball as some Heathfield players relaxed wrongly thinking that the ball was in touch . This was probably the low point for the visitors as some supporters bemoaned the way that a winning position had again been mislaid. In fact Heathfield now showed pleasing character and dominated the next period of play. First they surged into the left hand corner and from a lineout David Bayly almost inevitably worked his way over for a score to give great heart to his team (31-23) even though Heathfield were still a man short. Bayly had yet another dynamic all round game in attack and defence.
Once Maliki returned, Heathfield continued to have an edge but play was becoming rather frantic with Heathfield’s league position possibly in the balance. With eight minutes remaining Mailki powered his way over from a lineout to collect a try that did not change the result of the match but was of huge significance to Heathfield in their league campaign. It gave them at least one bonus point for a fourth try and made a losing bonus point a distinct possibility. Maliki does the inconspicuous work at close quarters that enables much to happen elsewhere so this was hard-earned and just his second try of this season.
In the remaining minutes Hove pressed into the visitors’ half but their only reward was one penalty so Heathfield were able to cling on to the losing bonus point (34-28). The home kicker had an excellent day with a 100% record while Heathfield had just two out of six successes and this had a big influence on the outcome.
All Heathfield supporters will have enjoyed seeing Bryn Jones back in action at inside centre and he had some characteristic influence on play – although his body may have something to say on the morning after his first game back. Nonetheless this was yet another different backs combination – 19 games, 19 different combinations – this makes coaching difficult with consequential results.
Results elsewhere mean that relegation is still mathematically possible athough unlikely. Heathfield are a young side and hopefully this side can move forward and become more secure in what has been a wonderfully competitive league, albeit stressful in its latter stages. Nonetheless there are questions to be answered about this side’s habit of starting well and then allowing the opposition back into the game.
Next week Heathfield entertain outright league winners Medway for their lap of honour to conclude the league program (8 April 3.00).