Heathfield gain well-contested away win in RFU Senior Vase
Early tries threatened by home resurgence
United Services Portsmouth 12 Heathfield 20
Heathfield eventually secured a four tries to two victory away to a remarkably resilient US Portsmouth (USP) who came back from 0-15 and will have felt disappointed that they did not snatch the result.
The home pitch is an excellent surface which Heathfield certainly appreciated but the strong breeze that strengthened during the afternoon had a big influence on the game. It caused any number of handling errors and put a premium on accurate kicking.
Heathfield faced the breeze in the first half and played their best rugby in this period. They started to build the phases beloved of coaches and had majority possession. Ed Koops and Kasper Solli were carrying well in heavy traffic. However the home side are a well-organised team who also proved very effective on the ground at the breakdown, thus securing several turnovers.
One attack into the right hand corner saw Henry Ross just denied by some brave tackling but soon afterwards Heathfield collected a try in the other corner as good scrum possession was worked through some phases and David Bayly provided the crucial link for George Gomersall to touch down (0-5).
A few minutes later Harry Reilly placed a delightful chip into the right hand corner and although the defence initially proved adequate, a 5 metre scrum was pressured and Ross was on hand to claim the loose ball over the line (0-10).
Heathfield’s lineout had a generally good day in spite of the difficult conditions for throwing in so credit to Fraser Goatcher who did most of the throwing in – and Bayly who caught many of them. Also Ross had another destructive day at the front of the line disrupting the home ball.
USP were defending well but did not manage to take advantage of the wind as much as they might have hoped as they had little possession. A few minutes before half time the home scrum half was binned after a final warning although he may have been unlucky since the penalty count was 6-6 at that point.
The Heathfield scrum had a solid day against a sizeable home unit. Richard Poole made one of his rare appearances at this level and had an excellent all round performance in the tight both at hooker and later at loose head, but he also made some useful contributions in broken play.
The visitors eventually made the extra man count a few minutes into the second half as accurate work from a scrum by Munch May and Tom Glenn allowed Rob Fenner to make good yards and put Sam Goatcher in for the try (0-15).
From this scoreline and with the elements in their favour Heathfield probably thought that they had the game won and perhaps they became a little complacent. In spite of the helpful breeze, some of their tactical kicking was less than ideal and the home team were not about to roll over.
A poor Heathfield kick out of defence was run back by USP who went close in the left hand corner. From there their forwards worked their way over the line near the posts and then duly claimed the only successful kick by either team on the day (7-15).
This seemed to inspire the home team – and one supporter commented that they were a second half team. The rest of the game was a real contest which could have gone either way.
Haidar Maliki, Eric Tamsen and Dylan Eames joined the fray during this period. Maliki made his characteristically combative contribution and it was good to see Tamsen back on the pitch after an extended injury break.
USP were also helped by Bryn Jones now being binned for malpractice at the breakdown although their second try came from a good scrum near the visitors’ line and after a couple of phases their loose head worked his way over in the right hand corner (12-15).
At this stage USP had the momentum and any result was possible so Heathfield were glad to regain some control as a couple of kicks put them into the home 22. A period of pressure resulted in a penalty in front of the posts and while the easy penalty would have given a 6 point lead, the ball was tapped and good hands gave Glenn a try on his first 1st team appearance for Heathfield with about ten minutes remaining (12-20).
The home side were far from beaten and again pressed on the visitors’ try line but a big scrum by the revamped Heathfield eight cleared the line.
Next week Heathfield return to league action as they entertain near neighbours Eastbourne (13 Feb 2.15).
While the rugby coaching this year is clearly having a very beneficial effect, there would appear to be a need for some choral coaching. This report is being written on the coach on the return journey under severe aural stress – with any luck that microphone will be disabled on future trips.
Other results in this competition mean that Heathfield are joined by Aylesford, Bromley and Hitchin as the last four in London & SE Division. The draw will be announced next Wednesday.