Good pack performance cannot deny impressive home back division
Dover 41 Heathfield 13
Dover were clear and deserved winners in the last league match of the regular season as their strong and skilful runners overwhelmed the Heathfield defence.
In ideal sunny conditions Heathfield started brightly, in spite of an extended coach tour of south-east England leaving less than ideal time to warm up, and immediately established a good position in the bottom right hand corner. A succession of effective forward drives was finally adjudged to have been held up and then from a dominant scrum Heathfield were disappointed to see the ball squirt free and the home side were able to escape. Nonetheless Heathfield were soon able to open the scoring with a Harry Reilly penalty (0-3).
This proved to be a false dawn as Dover soon started to play to their strengths of their impressive back division and they ran back a loose visitors’ kick out of defence for a score in the top right hand corner, albeit not converted.
They followed this up on the quarter hour with an efficient lineout catch and drive into the same corner, this time converted. The game was being well contested and the referee felt the need to have a word with both captains at this stage. The Heathfield pack in particular were causing the home side some problems with Ben Jones especially catching the eye with some good work. Heathfield pressure into the bottom right hand corner led to a yellow card for a home back rower and Oli Robertshaw cemented his place as Heathfield’s top try scorer with another one from close range (12-8).
This was now a very open game which increasingly played to Dover’s strengths as they thrive on good ball in open play. Henry Armstrong had to retire with a nasty blood injury after an important tackle back and was replaced by Felix Godwin, reflecting Heathfield’s shortage of back cover on the bench.
Dover now scored a simple try as their fly half stepped inside the rushing defence and strolled over under the posts. Heathfield were a long way from beaten and surged back down the slope with Toby Warren making one of several handy runs on the day. More pressure in the bottom left hand corner led to another yellow for the home side, this time their number 8. However at the resulting scrum when Heathfield would have been looking for a score the home eight managed to secure a penalty and the chance was lost.
The visitors’ scrum had a decent day and the lineout mostly worked with Henry Ross the key man – Ross had an outstanding day in all phases. Reilly had some nice touches at fly half but never got his line working in the way achieved by the home side. Alex (Yeti) Palmer made a decent first team debut off the bench and was only just denied a try by some desperate home defence.
In the second half Dover scored four more tries which all came from their excellent back division and Heathfield will have noted this with interest since these two sides will face each other next year. However Heathfield will also have noted that they were able to apply plenty of pressure on the home eight with the penalty count being increasingly against the home side. Two more yellow cards for Dover in the second half for offences in the red zone reflected this pressure and Heathfield were at least able to have the last word with a try by Ethan Walker with strong run from ten yards out.
Since this was the last play of the game Haidar Maliki was lined up to take the conversion as his last act in a Heathfield shirt but regrettably this was bodged. Nonetheless Maliki has been a massively positive influence for Heathfield with much hard graft at close quarters and most recently as an effective captain – he will be much missed.
Heathfield thus probably finish in ninth place in the league and they will do well to emulate this next year in a league which looks likely to be even tougher, and more Kent based, next year. The team bus probably took even longer on the return journey and was last reported at a pub near Hawkhurst – best not ask too many questions.
Today Heathfield eyes will be focused on Hove at 2pm when Heathfield Ladies take on Hove Ladies II with the winner securing top place in their league – an impressive achievement for their first year in a league competition.