Visits to South London have been a very mixed experience for Heathfield this season but today was one of the happier ones as they returned with two vital bonus points from a game in which they had been in danger of being blown away by a cricket score.
Conditions were perfect on a sunny day with little breeze and the pitch was generally acknowledged by the visiting players as the best surface they have played on this winter with consistent lush grass cover.
Park started the game at a high pace and immediately pressed down the slight slope with their big runners providing good support. Their first try soon came in the left hand corner with just a hint of a forward pass. Then a tap penalty was efficiently driven over from short range in the same area, and was well converted. Next a visitors’ lineout was turned over and strong running provided the third try, again converted (19-0).
Heathfield were trying to work back into the game and a useful attack into the top left hand corner was just held up. However from this promising attacking position Park turned the ball over in the centre and surged back downfield. The home bonus point try came as the game entered the second quarter when another promising Heathfield attack was turned over and Park finished efficiently for their try bonus point (26-0).
Again Heathfield worked their way back upfield and again were denied as an interception in the centre was very nearly exploited but a scrambling defence just did enough with Ethan Walker making one of his important tackles on the day. However on the half hour Park collected their fifth try again in the bottom left hand corner, albeit with more than just a hint of a knock on about it.
The half finished on a positive note for the visitors as repeated tap penalties in the home 22 were illegally hindered and a penalty try was the inevitable result (26-7).
For the first half hour Park looked a very good side with big strong runners and excellent support that will cause problems for many teams. They have a strong scrummage which is built around their tight head Terry Read who had the visitors under considerable pressure for the whole game. Nonetheless in a switch around at half time Felix Godwin came on to tight head and Tom Watkins moved across to loose. While still under pressure, with Oli Robertshaw having another fine day at number eight salvaging difficult ball, they did collect three scrum penalties in the second half.
Park competed effectively in the lineout and pressured Heathfield into long throws which didn’t always work.
Park started the second half brightly but they never achieved the same fluidity that had been apparent in the first half hour. The visiting fightback now began in earnest as good lineout ball was worked wide and carried on by Harry Reilly before eventually reaching Henry Armstrong who finished well (26-12).
Park did collect two more tries from some more good support play but I can’t understand my notes as to how they did this (38-12).
However the last quarter belonged to the visitors as the back division in particular enjoyed running at the home backs down the slope. First Reilly ran back a kick out of defence to find Lewis Headland who made a mazy run down the right wing before being checked just short of the line, but Toby Warren was on hand to plunge over. Tom Glenn converted (38-19).
Park had probably relaxed with the game presumed won while Heathfield had a distinct sniff of a bonus point and clearly believed that more scores were possible. Lewis collected the next try with a fine solo effort with about ten minutes left in the game and now the home supporters were becoming just slightly anxious while the visiting followers were increasingly hopeful (38-24).
Park tried to run their way out of their own 22 but Tom Glenn was on hand to snatch an interception and dive over for the bonus point try, with the conversion also making a losing bonus point a possibility. The intercepted pass was made by Park scrum half Alan Knuckey who has caused Heathfield plenty of grief over the years so older visiting supporters especially enjoyed the moment.
Any score by Park would have denied Heathfield the losing bonus point but instead a penalty gave the visitors a chance for an attacking lineout in what would have been the last play of the game. However the kick failed to find touch and a Park player was happy to kick the ball dead and end the game.
Captain for the day Haidar Maliki had a decent all round game with his trademark emphatic tackling making a big impact. Reilly had an effective game, especially when he moved to full back, managing the game. Warren was also mentioned afterwards for both attack and defence. However Walker was the standout player on the day with numerous crunching tackles and several decent carries.
Park were deserved winners on the day based on the first half hour. After that they may well have had their minds on their Intermediate Cup Semi Final next week and thus allowed Heathfield back into the game. Whatever the reasons Heathfield will just be pleased with the two important bonus points in their fight to avoid relegation.
After a week’s rest Heathfield next visit Horsham (3 March 3.00).
It’s our final Kids First Champion for the season! David ‘Flats’ Flatman and two special guests surprise Ellingham & Ringwood RFC.