Heathfield overcome conditions and strong Seaford pack
By Philip Bell
Lessons learnt from previous encounter
Seaford 0 Heathfield 19
Heathfield were convincing winners by three tries to none in miserable conditions against a Seaford side that had won the previous encounter between these teams. The Heathfield coaching team had worked hard on several specific aspects from that earlier game and were gratified to see the hard work on the training paddock paying off as the green eight generally absorbed the home pack pressure and increasingly moved the ball wide.
You cannot call yourself a true Sussex rugby player until you have played at Seaford on a winter’s day in the wind and rain so the Heathfield squad certainly passed that test today. The rain was only intermittent but it was cold and unpleasant when it did arrive.
Seaford naturally chose to play into the stiff breeze in the first half. Typically in the men’s game in these circumstances the ball would have been booted downfield and most of the game would have happened at the railway end. However one characteristic of the women’s game is the lack of kickers so the match was mostly played in midfield. On the two occasions that Heathfield did kick downfield they made useful ground with Emily Sowell chasing well to secure the gain.
Seaford have a strong and effective pack which wins them many games and they duly started to work their way into the visitors’ half. However it soon became clear that Heathfield had learnt from earlier encounters and mostly contained this threat. Saskia Sullivan led in this area with some especially effective tackling and competing for the ball as well as strong scrummaging and carrying.
The first try came from a Sullivan turnover and once she had stopped running flat and passed, good hands moved the ball wide left for Ellie Duley to make a strong run from inside her own half and outstrip the cover. Carla Monson converted.
Katie Statham now retired briefly with a wrist injury allowing international traveller Lizzy Norman to make a welcome reappearance although Statham later bravely returned to good effect.
Near the end of the half Seaford had a period of pressure on the visitors’ try line which was only just contained by much determined and well-organised defence, with Duley catching the eye with some strong work in this area.
Although it appeared that Seaford had a weight advantage the scrummage was mostly level, with the green eight often getting a decent nudge on. Poppy Eacott afterwards received much credit for her first full game at hooker against stern opponents. Given the wind the lineout was always going to be difficult and some felt that the referee was too strict in this respect.
For a long time in the second half it looked as though this would be a one score game. Seaford were not able to take advantage of the conditions in their favour and their chief tactic of forward driving was being contained. Georgia Reed-Davies and Sophia Skinner, alongside skipper Becky Taylor, were instrumental in Heathfield containing the home threat.
Then in the last quarter with a larger share of possession Heathfield looked increasingly threatening ball in hand. The best try of the day came from an unlikely position in front of the Heathfield posts when Duley chipped ahead, Sowell regathered possession and Heathfield surged upfield. They were briefly checked by a penalty in their favour when advantage could have been played, but more good hands, again involving Sowell, and Keeleigh Harman finally ended with Duley collecting her second try of the day, impressively converted by Reed-Davies into the stiff breeze. Harman had one of her most effective days in both defence and attack with some strong carries.
The final score came from another break by Duley with Sowell being caught just short of the line under the posts but a quickly taken tap saw the ball moved wide right for Nicky Charter to touch down in the corner.
This result was a team effort involving all eighteen squad members with the pack getting particular mention for their efforts in absorbing the home eight pressure. As well as those mentioned above Monson had yet another typically committed and useful day while Dom Wilkinson enjoyed a handy cameo off the bench.
Next week Heathfield travel to Lordswood for the first time (10 Mar 14.00). Today’s result sees them as clear leaders in the league with just two games remaining.
1 Carly Harris 2 Poppy Eacott 3 Saskia Sullivan 4 Alex Young 5 Georgia Reed-Davies 6 Katie Statham 7 Sophia Skinner 8 Becky Taylor (Capt) 9 Carla Monson 10 Ellie Duley 11 Brittany Mole 12 Keeleigh Harman 13 Lauren Duly 14 Harriet Plummer 15 Emily Sowell
Replacements 16 Nicky Charter 17 Lizzy Norman 18 Domi Wilkinson