Team performance produces Vase success
Heathfield just survive late fight back by Aylesford
Heathfield 30 Aylesford 23
Heathfield progressed to the National Semi Final in the RFU Senior Vase with a four tries to three win over old rivals Aylesford in a good quality game in which a decent home lead was nearly overhauled by a spirited Aylesford fightback.
In excellent conditions with little wind and on a good dry surface, the visitors chose to play up the slight slope. Aylesford soon collected a penalty, well struck from near the home ten metre line, so Heathfield were given due warning that they had to behave (0-3).
The home supporters were soon encouraged as the home wingers Ben Boorman and George Gomersall joined up in running back an Aylesford kick out of defence. At this stage Aylesford were often choosing to kick for position.
Heathfield opened their scoring as David Bayly, under some pressure, caught another visitors’ kick but managed to slip the ball to Gomersall, just in the home half and Gomersall then scored yet another fine individual try with a lovely run down the touchline (5-3).
The game was characterised by some pacy play by all four wide men. The visiting wingers, Steve Stewart and Richard Roddis, looked very dangerous throughout the game and their opponents, Heathfield’s two Colt wingers, Boorman and Gomersall, will have learnt much from the occasion but who generally matched their older opponents.
Heathfield now had some extended pressure in the visitors’ half. After a couple of early even scrums, the home eight started to get a bit of a nudge on, and the home pack were beginning to build some phases. A scrum under the visitors posts looked dangerous and the Aylesford full back may have been unlucky with a yellow card for some backchat. However in the early stage of a game referees like to ‘set their stall out’ and abusive language should always be penalised. Harry Reilly duly slotted the resulting penalty (8-3).
At this stage Heathfield were playing well. Good ruck ball was worked wide to the right wing where Boorman had a live chance but his potentially handy chip ahead was retrieved by the visiting scrum half who was then chased across the pitch by Boorman, evading other tackles and looking very dangerous until seriously flattened by Haidar Maliki. Any TV coverage would still be showing replays of this legal but rib-rearranging hit.
Most of the play was now in the visitors’ half with Heathfield enjoying majority possession so it was entirely with the run of play when Bayly crashed over near the left hand corner after some phases and good handling (13-3).
Nonetheless Aylesford immediately surged back and were only just denied by some brave tackling when the ball went forward in the tackle just a couple of yards short of the home try line.
A half time lead can be deceptive so an early Heathfield try was reassuring for home supporters. Bayly took a quick lineout and then supported Gomersall on a run into the left hand corner, just tackled into touch. Heathfield won the resulting lineout and after a couple of phases Ed Koops was driven over for a deserved try, converted by Reilly (20-3).
In spite of that ominous scoreline, Aylesford immediately replied with a penalty – but that was soon cancelled out by a Reilly penalty (23-6). Nonetheless the next period saw a spirited and skilful fightback by Aylesford. This was led principally by their number 8, Michael Jackson, who often made many yards with muscular direct charges and who was backed up by an enthusiastic set of backs.
The visitors collected one deserved try in the left hand corner although perhaps crucially the conversion drifted wide (23-11). More Aylesford attacks were generally contained by the home defence which has the most niggardly figures in the SE3 league table although at one point it took some clever work by Munch May and Henry Ross to thwart one attack. Aylesford were having to play catch-up and on several occasions Heathfield very sensibly went back to one of their stronger modes with close forward driving so as to deny the visitors’ wider opportunities.
Nonetheless with 15 minutes remaining the Aylesford enterprise was rewarded as a converted try cut the lead to just five points (23-18). This initiated a period of tension and fluctuating fortunes with all results being possible and the prospect of extra time looming.
A long range Reilly penalty just dropped short of the crossbar but with just a few minutes remaining Heathfield continued to press into the corner near the boisterous clubhouse balcony. This pressure was rewarded by a yellow card for an Aylesford forward for malpractice at the breakdown. From the resulting lineout the home pack drove forward for Bayly to collect the try, well converted by Reilly (30-18).
That was effectively the game as, although Aylesford immediately fought back to collect a converted try at the other end, they had run out of time (30-23).
This was a quality game between two well-matched sides. Heathfield are well aware they will be visiting Aylesford for the last scheduled game in the league program which will probably determine promotion from SE3 for these two clubs and Bromley – three into two doesn’t go. In similar conditions that should be another cracking contest.
This was a fine team performance by Heathfield who on several occasions during the game when under pressure managed to impose their style of play on affairs and thus kept control. Heathfield Head Coach Dave Cook picked out Eric Tamsen for his all round contribution but everyone put in a good shift.
Next Saturday (19 Mar 3.00) Heathfield return to SE3 league duty when they visit Burgess Hill. However inevitably minds will be starting to think about that trip to Withycombe over the Easter weekend for the National Semi Final. Withycombe also play in green so something will have to change.