A bonus point won or an important home win opportunity missed? Probably the former.
Heathfield 20 Dover 27
After a well-observed minute’s applause in memory of Heathfield’s much lamented former President Paul Wilson who died during the off-season, in perfect conditions Heathfield played up the slope initially. Early indications were positive as the ball was run back, the first scrum was dominated by the home eight and then Toby Wallace made the first of a number of excellent runs. A penalty soon followed and Harry Reilly duly collected the points (3-0).
Heathfield were playing with considerable ambition and skill as illustrated by good hands between loose head Fraser Goatcher and left wing Ben Boorman. At this stage the visitors were under pressure and conceding penalties, resulting in a yellow card for their 12 for an infringement soon after a final warning from the referee.
Heathfield were unable to benefit from the extra man and indeed Dover rallied strongly with a surge into the bottom corner. However in a maul the visitors’ tight head was adjudged to have struck a Heathfield player and he was duly carded. His backs colleague soon returned to the fray at about this time so the visitors played half of the first period one man short.
Heathfield now scored two quality tries, both on the right wing. First good lineout ball was moved wide and Jack Koops made the critical penetration before putting Wallace in for the score (8-0). Then shortly afterwards good turnover ball was moved wide and Koops was able to return the compliment by putting Wallace in for another excellent score (13-0). With 25 minutes gone this was probably the deserved high watermark for the home team on the day.
In the last few minutes of the half Dover started to assert themselves and should have scored in the bottom corner but good defence pressure disrupted an otherwise easy chance. Arguably they should then have been awarded a penalty try when Koops was yellow-carded for a high tackle in the bottom corner but justice was done as the ball was soon moved wide left for a fine converted try (13-7).
Dover started the second period strongly but an early penalty chance was missed. Fabian Rimmer, one of five young debutants on the day, now kicked through and the follow up was just denied. However the dropout was secured and good hands gave Boorman a little space which, after some quality footwork, allowed him to put Oli Robertshaw in for the try (20-7). The other newcomers were Guy Quitterton, Koops, Ben Jones and Toby Streeter.
However most of the rest of the game was played in the home half as the bigger and more experienced visiting pack took control. Most of the visiting team have played at higher levels and they recognised the opportunity. Insistent pressure into the home half was initially repelled by a period of great home defence all across the home try line, with particular mention for some fine lineout steals by Henry Ross. Captain for the day Gus Taylor and Tom Glenn were especially noted for their efforts at this stage but it was a fine team effort.
Then some scrappy play saw a boot ahead and Dover were on hand to claim the touch down (20-12).
With a quarter of the game remaining any result was possible but in reality Dover were now on the front foot and some experience off the bench allowed them to close out the result as the physical impact took its toll on Heathfield. Rimmer and Glenn had to be replaced at this stage for injury. Glenn had provided calm control and made some lovely breaks. Jones and Streeter came off the bench and did well in difficult circumstances with many old H&W hands taking pleasure in seeing a Streeter on the team sheet again.
Continuing Dover pressure meant that the penalty count against Heathfield was rising and Boorman eventually ‘took one for the team’. The Dover full back Martyn Beaumont moved from full back to fly half and he made a number of incisive runs keeping the home team on the back foot.
A definitive moment came with about 15 minutes left when the generally dominant Heathfield scrummage had driven the visitors off their own ball with the Dover back row all standing off in disarray, only for the ball to squirt out and Dover to grab the opportunity very effectively and dive over in the corner (20-17).
Dover probably did then score another try in the corner but the referee decided otherwise – however they eventually worked their way over soon afterwards to take the lead (20-22). The scoring was then completed by a short range plunge under the home balcony.
However the lack of conversions meant that Heathfield did collect a losing bonus point which will be some small solace for a game that they could have won. Notably the touch judges were unsure about one of the conversions but the Dover kicker generously told the referee that it had not been converted. This reinforced the general atmosphere about the game which was well contested but enjoyed good banter with players and spectators of both sides.
Dover will probably be a better side after today’s game as they adjust to life at this level and it would be a surprise if they were not near the top of the league table next April when Heathfield make their first visit to Crabble Road.
Heathfield will take pleasure from the quality of play in the first half and the contributions from the younger members. Results elsewhere suggest this will be a typically well-contested league in which Heathfield will be a very relevant contributor.
Next Saturday (16th September 3.00) Heathfield visit newly promoted Haywards Heath.