Heathfield edge past RFU Senior Vase holders
Reilly kicking a key factor
Heathfield 19 Bromley 16
Heathfield eventually progressed to the London Division Final of the RFU Senior Vase as they edged nervily past Bromley who had won this competition at Twickenham last year. The relative league positions suggested this would be a close affair and this proved correct.
Apart from the chilly east wind, conditions were excellent with a noisy crowd of supporters from both clubs. The knock out nature of the contest meant that there was a different approach to the game compared to league contests in some aspects. In a league game, many of today’s penalties would have been kicked to the corner to go for a try – today the captains generally went for the points.
Heathfield initially chose to play into the wind with the slight slope in their favour and the first ten minutes saw two well-matched sides working each other out. Heathfield soon established a decent rhythm with their possession and went through phases, albeit without achieving much penetration at this point.
A Bromley penalty after about eight minutes was almost immediately cancelled out as David Bayly retrieved the ball from the restart and Bromley were penalised for Harry Reilly to open his account for the day (3-3). Tom Glenn was deputising at scrum half and he had a generally effective day with a couple of early snipes around the breakdown that looked promising. He had to contend with the visiting scrum half who was one of their most dangerous players. Ethan Walker now ran a lovely line through the midfield and anyone in close support would have had an easy run in. Walker does not just make the initial break, he then powers through and it takes a determined defence to contain him.
Near the end of the first quarter Reilly missed his only kick on the day and some points of concern were appearing for the home side. Bromley collected three strikes against the head over the game although this may have been partly due to the novel Heathfield scrum half/hooker combination. The home lineout also had a patchy day, albeit on a difficult day for throwing in given the wind.
Nonetheless Heathfield just had majority possession overall and began to exert pressure, especially into the bottom right hand corner resulting in another Reilly penalty (6-3). Although Bromley fought back to level the score the half ended with another home penalty (9-6).
Given the cold wind Bromley chose to return to their changing room at the interval. They may have warmed up a little by the time they eventually emerged but Heathfield soon chilled any optimism with another Reilly penalty (12-6). Trying to utilise the wind Reilly was unlucky to see one otherwise fine long downwind kick out of defence just bounce the wrong side of the corner flag, necessitating a scrum back. On the one occasion that Heathfield did manage to work into the left hand corner the attacking lineout was disrupted and Bromley cleared their lines.
Ollie Brown was looking hungry for work and made a number of threatening runs during the game. Bayly gave his characteristic impression of perpetuum mobile and never seemed to be more than five yards from the ball – quite outstanding. For Bromley their hooker David Banfield attracted plenty of positive comments for his all-round contribution as well as actually hooking the ball sometimes.
Nearing the final quarter Bromley narrowed the gap with another penalty (12-9) and it looked as though the next score could be critical. Students of the fine print of the regulations were well aware that a tied score, after extra time and with no tries for either side, would have resulted in the away team, Bromley, being declared the winners.
Thankfully for the cardiac department of Pembury Hospital who might otherwise have had several mature home supporters as customers, the probably decisive score now arrived as good ruck ball on the right side of the field was moved to Reilly who realised that George Gomersall on the left wing had little opposition. Reilly’s diagonal kick was well judged for Gomersall to time his run to collect the ball and then step inside the desperate defence for a clinically taken and important try, naturally converted by Reilly (19-9).
Bromley are a fine and resilient team who were a long way from giving up. However they were having to play from deep as Heathfield generally kept them penned in their own half. Their left wing James Powell did score a fine individual try from the half way line which again reduced the difference to just three points to raise the prospect of extra time (19-16).
Knowing that any score would be critical Bromley tried to raise their game. The last few minutes again raised the pulse rate of both sets of supporters as Ed Koops, who otherwise had his characteristic impactful game, was rightly binned for a trip. A couple of desperate last attacks were just contained and Heathfield were happy to boot the ball into the hedge to end the game.
The Koops yellow card was justified. Some home supporters felt that the visitors had deserved a card in the first half with a penalty count of 4-11 against them. However most of those offences took place all over the pitch and were for a variety of offences so no specific warning had been issued.
Heathfield will face Aylesford in the London Division Final of the RFU Senior Vase at home on 12 March. However next week Uckfield come to call at Cross-In-Hand in a London SE 3 league match and older members know that this local encounter with a long history is always well contested (5 Mar 3.00). Note the kickoff time – we’re into March.