Experienced Bulls beat youthful Heathfield
Aylesford take their chances while Heathfield fluff good opportunities
Heathfield 20 Aylesford Bulls 25
A highly competitive contest saw just relegated Aylesford Bulls edge home against a youthful Heathfield side who will learn much from the day.
Aylesford took their chances while Heathfield failed to convert extended periods of pressure. The home side finished much the stronger but Aylesford held on for a deserved away win, with their defence being a crucial factor.
Most of the Aylesford side have extended experience in London SE Division 2 and this showed. Heathfield may feel that Aylesford were allowed to fringe and exploit the offside elsewhere but players have to learn to play the referee as well as the ball.
On a warm day with no significant wind, Aylesford generally started the stronger. They missed an early penalty chance but after ten minutes a good position in the home twenty two was exploited by the visiting scrum half and his twisting lateral run set up his outside half to dive over near the posts (0-7).
However Heathfield gradually worked their way back into the game and most of the rest of the half was played in the visitors’ half. The home pack secured majority possession through an effective scrummage and good competition in loose play.
David Bayly was making a welcome return after an extended break for a serious knee injury and soon showed that he has lost none of his appetite for destructive tackling. Henry Ross took a knock and was temporarily replaced by debutant Ollie Staples who demonstrated his versatility doing useful work in the back row and later at hooker.
Bryn Jones made one delightful break and went close in the left hand corner but the support couldn’t reach him and the cover tackling just coped. After 25 minutes Chester Duff, making an impressive 1st team debut at 18, opened his and Heathfield’s account with a penalty (3-7). He collected 4 from 4 kicking chances on the day.
Heathfield continued to press and some decent interplay between Munch May, Rob Fenner and Ollie Brown hinted at what this back division could deliver with more time together. Harry Clewley also made a strong impression on the left wing with some tasty runs until forced off by injury after half an hour. He was replaced by Jo Sandford who provides very decent utility back coverage.
The game was probably decided in the last few minutes of the half as repeated Heathfield pressure was just contained by the Aylesford defence. Either the visitors managed to clear their lines or Heathfield bodged the final pass, with one glaring opportunity going to ground in the right hand corner. Some of the home play in this period was superb but the failure to finish was eventually decisive.
The home scrummage had an edge throughout the game even though there were several different combinations with Richard Poole doing a sturdy job as a replacement. However the lineout did not work well and will doubtless be the subject of work in training this week. Aylesford probably had the edge on the ground but Heathfield always competed effectively otherwise in the loose. Scrum half May did well in spite of the persistent opposition fringing. Another debutant Haidar Maliki was noted doing plenty of unobtrusive but effective work and looks a useful addition.
With the game very much in the balance Aylesford collected an important early score in the second half. Some of the home players seemed to stop for an obvious offside but Aylesford played the whistle and a smart blind side break round a breakdown gave their fly half his second try on the day (3-14). Duff soon reduced the deficit with a decent penalty but then Aylesford collected their third try in the right hand corner after some poor tackling in the home midfield (6-19).
With twenty minutes remaining some niggle was developing between the teams and both coaches, with the ref’s agreement, had a word with their teams. This seemed to have the desired effect.
Heathfield continued to have more of the play with Jones contributing some fine line kicking and Ross making an excellent lineout steal. However Aylesford collected another penalty and at 6-22 all looked lost.
Nonetheless in the last 10 minutes Heathfield outscored the visitors by 14 points to 3. Insistent home pressure saw an Aylesford flanker yellow carded at the breakdown and soon afterwards good hands allowed Brown to finish well in the left hand corner, finely converted by Duff (13-22). Then an Aylesford penalty seemed to have sealed the result but a determined forward effort saw Heathfield skipper Ollie Smith muscle his way over for a try, with Duff again converting well with the last kick of the game.
Heathfield are a young side with more Colts pushing for places. They were clearly the fitter side but had to give best on the day to a more streetwise opposition who took their chances well.
This Saturday (26 Sept 2pm) Heathfield visit Park House who have always provided difficult opposition over the years.