Decisive win for Heathfield Ladies in table-topping encounter
By Philip Bell
All round game eventually overcomes visitors' forward strength
Heathfield Ladies 19 Cranbrook 0
Heathfield were the clear and deserved winners of this top of the table clash by three tries to nil in front of a sizeable and appreciative crowd with plentiful supporters from both clubs. This was a competitive and closely contested game which did credit to all involved. On a warm and beautiful day more like April than mid-February, conditions were perfect with a dry pitch and no significant wind.
Heathfield had clearly decided on a fast open game to play to their perceived strengths and throughout the match they generally picked options that kept the ball moving and away from the visitors’ pack.
As the game settled down Cranbrook started to exert pressure chiefly though their big forwards, and indeed much of the first half was in the home half. In spite of the lack of any score until the very end of the half, the game was probably decided in this period as Heathfield contained the visitors’ forward power and eventually wore them down. Skipper Becky Taylor yet again led by example with committed tackling and effective carrying. In the Cranbrook pack Fran Chapman and Emma Turner were afterwards commended for their efforts.
Linde Brouwer and Georgia Reed-Davies were especially effective in these early stages with strong carries, often with ball obtained from turnovers. Brouwer also made one impressive steal at the breakdown but on a couple of promising runs she was trapped on the touchline. Reed-Davies survived one very heavy tackle which briefly left her shaken but sadly her second row opponent had to retire with a shoulder injury. Reed-Davies is a young but promising force in the game
Amber Lovick briefly retired with an injury so no 8 Becky Farrant moved up to prop and put in a fine shift in that unfamiliar role. Then Brouwer had to withdraw with a shoulder injury and Lovick returned to action.
In the dying moments of the half Heathfield were on one of their rare visits to the visitors’ half and they were pressing into the left hand corner. Then a penalty was again tapped and after a couple of phases the ball was moved wide and Ellie Duley had enough skill and pace to collect a fine try on the right hand side. Duley had an impressive all round game with sound defence and several other useful runs.
Cranbrook clearly had a weight advantage in the scrummage but Heathfield generally contained this, albeit often under pressure. Also Heathfield probably had the better of the lineout once they realised that the visitors were persistently throwing to the front jumper.
Soon after half time a sequence of changes saw Katie Statham join the back row where she again impressed with committed tackling.
In the second half Heathfield started to become more effective ball in hand and were making good ground into the visitors’ half. A ball taken against the head at the scrummage was moved left for Emily Sowell to make her first significant contribution on the day before the ball was efficiently moved wide right in an especially pleasing period of play although the visitors’ defence just held.
Cranbrook were now consistently under pressure and this eventually resulted in a scrum in front of their posts at the end of the third quarter. Secure ball allowed scrum half Carla Monson to collect a fine individual try, which she also converted, to give Heathfield a stranglehold on the game at 12-0. Monson had a massive all round game with multiple tackles, always being involved at the breakdown and making many yards ball in hand.
Heathfield were now playing some delightful rugby which took some whole-hearted defence by Cranbrook to contain. In the earlier game between these two teams Sowell had collected a hat-trick of tries but today she rarely received the ball in any space although she still often made good ground – and as usual was very effective in defence.
The result was put beyond doubt with ten minutes remaining by the third Heathfield try as good support play through several phases allowed Becky Ayres to work her way over, and Reed-Davies duly converted.
The penalty count against the visitors was now mounting and their final brave efforts were safely contained.
Positive mention should be made of the referee who, although with much rugby experience, was having only his second game in that role and who generally allowed the game to flow.
Cranbrook afterwards commented that they rued their lack of match practice as this was their first game for six weeks. However they were pleased with Kelly Thomas having her first appearance at hooker and Sharon McCormack having her first ever game of rugby although they picked full back Debbie Man as their man of the match.
The league table now shows Heathfield and Cranbrook equal top on league points but this table is normally updated later in the week to reflect bonus points when Heathfield will probably be clear leaders (but in this league, who knows?). Today was a big event in terms of the final outcome of this table but there are still tough matches to come, such as next week.
The Heathfield coaches were afterwards delighted with all of the players – listed below – including those replacements who did not see any action. The enthusiastic involvement of the whole squad on match day and at training is resulting in a very positive vibe about the team – and reportedly they are pretty social as well.
Heathfield next visit Seaford with whom they have had close contests this year with one win apiece (3 March 2.00) so the table-topping could yet be short-lived.
1. Carly Harris
2. Amber Lovick
3. Saskia Sullivan
4. Linde Brouwer
5. Georgia Reed-Davies
6. Sophia Skinner
7. Becky Taylor (c)
8. Becky Farrant
9. Carla Monson
10. Ellie Duley
11. Izzy Bowler
12. Keeleigh Harman
13. Emily Sowell
14. Lauren Duly
15. Nicky Charter
16. Poppy Eacott
17. Katie Statham
18. Rebecca Eyres
19. Brittany Mole
20. Hattie Plummer
21. Alex Young