Late try seals away victory
Much changed back division and strong scrummage in good team performance
Old Dunstonians 17 Heathfield 21
Heathfield deservedly secured a thoroughly well-contested away victory in South London with the winning try coming a couple of minutes from time. In excellent conditions and on a fine playing surface, the lead changed hands several times before Heathfield forward superiority eventually paid off in the dying minutes of the game. Injuries and availability issues meant that the back division looked radically different from the team that had been so effective the previous week.
Playing down the slight slope Heathfield had the better of the opening exchanges with the forwards looking competitive and they were soon rewarded with a penalty, duly converted by Lucas Cuming
(0-3). The visitors were enjoying almost complete control of possession until Dunstonians secured their first clean ball in midfield and good hands created a 2-on-1 for their speedy right wing to score a fine, albeit unconverted, try (5-3). Soon afterwards the home side will have been handicapped by the loss through injury of their scrum half. Near the end of the first quarter more Heathfield pressure resulted in another penalty for Cuming (5-6). Fraser Goatcher
had been an important part of the visitors’ forward effort with some stomping runs down the slope so it was a disappointment when he now had to be replaced for injury by Richard Poole
. Poole had a particularly useful game with some tidy work in the loose on top of his key part in an increasingly effective scrummaging performance.
Both teams needed to use all of their three permitted replacements during the game and Heathfield were concerned about having a bench of three forwards. Nick Cook, normally a second row/No 8 now made his senior debut at outside centre and proved completely adequate to the occasion as Ben Boorman
had to retire with a back issue. Boorman had been the star of the game the previous week with four tries and he again threatened every time the received the ball without quite managing to break free. The half closed with another assured Heathfield penalty by Cuming (5-9) and the game was in the balance.
Ollie Brown now had to retire with a leg issue so Gus Fraser made a welcome reappearance in the back row and David Bayly
moved to full back, somewhat to his irritation given the lack of frequent physical contact. Ethan Walker
made useful hard yards in the centre throughout the game and often created opportunities elsewhere while Munch May
had a productive game trying to utilise plentiful possession with an unfamiliar back division.
Heathfield were playing with ambition but were being let down by some poor execution with several dropped passes in open play. They were probably attacking too narrowly when the wide men were looking dangerous and the home defence generally effective near the breakdown.
The first ten minutes of the second half saw the best of the home team as they pressured the visitors and were starting to win some key breakdowns. They regained the lead with a deserved try in the left hand corner, again unconverted (10-9).
However this served to concentrate Heathfield minds and good lineout ball was effectively exploited with Jo Sandford eventually claiming a fine try on the right wing, (10-14) thus retaking the lead. This in turn inspired Dunstonians to greater efforts and the Heathfield line was put under severe extended pressure. Although the home team now lost their talented right winger to injury, their sizeable pack continued to be effective and a catch and dive from a lineout duly rumbled over, this time for a converted try (17-14) with over twenty minutes remaining.
Most of the remaining time was spent in the home half as the Heathfield scrummage became an increasingly important factor, securing their own ball and often driving the home pack off their ball with several consequent penalties.
Haidar Maliki was noted with some useful work in the loose in this period but the whole pack showed that they were prepared to work for a result. On two occasions skipper Ollie Smith
chose to go for a scrummage rather than take a straightforward three points that would have tied up the game. This finally paid off with barely two minutes remaining when the ball was worked wide for Bayly to work his way over for the decisive score, naturally converted by Cuming (17-21).
This meant that Dunstonians needed more than a penalty for a result and although they pressed hard in the remaining minutes the visiting defence proved adequate.
With many Heathfield players having a good day, there was nonetheless general appreciation for a mature performance by Cuming in his first start at fly half at this level. He withstood some robust tackling and kept on standing back up to control the game with impressive maturity, together with effective place kicking.
Also many players commented on the sympathetic refereeing on the day which, apart from the usual whinges, was considered to be the best Heathfield has enjoyed this season.
After a week off Heathfield next return to league action when they entertain league leaders Cranbrook on 24 October at 1pm due to the World Cup Semi Finals.