Bonus point win over Cranbrook
All round team performance - but too much possession wasted
Heathfield 25 Cranbrook 5
In an entertaining and well-contested match Heathfield eventually collected a bonus point win with the last play of the game against a resilient and occasionally threatening Cranbrook side.
Heathfield took control early on and scarcely relaxed it for most of the first half. The kick off was secured and run back to achieve position in the visitors’ half which they did not leave for nearly thirty five minutes. An early penalty chance drifted wide and after that Heathfield repeatedly declined opportunities to kick points and instead went for the corner, with somewhat limited results.
The home scrummage soon showed that they had an edge and all three of the back row had excellent games so most loose ball was being secured.
Several extended periods of play in the bottom corner put severe pressure on the visitors’ defence but they showed considerable skill and determination to withstand the repeated attacks. Rob Fenner went close in the corner following a cross kick from Bryn Jones but just had a foot in touch.
Given the amount of possession and position Heathfield should have had points on the board in this period. However too many wrong options were being taken and good ball being wasted. Oli Robertshaw was noted trying to provide some necessary direction and had a generally effective game. The home back division was much changed due to availability issues and this showed as poor options and errors meant that good ball was not exploited. Nonetheless it was pleasant to see that the two centres were very recent products of the junior section with Lucas Cuming and Chester Duff continuing to make a positive impression in their first season at the senior level.
The penalty count against Cranbrook was steadily rising and this inevitably resulted in a card for a Cranbrook centre after yet another offside, with the referee having a quietly authoritative and impressive game.
Finally after thirty five minutes a quick lineout was driven forward, then spread wide and although brave tackling initially prevented a score in the left hand corner, Jones was on hand to dive over (5-0).
From the restart Heathfield again resumed the insistent pressure on the visitors but Cranbrook now illustrated their character with a fine break out, led by their full back who had an excellent game showing skill and considerable pace. The attack reached the home twenty two and Cranbrook were only denied a try by an outstanding tackle by second row Henry Ross who showed great determination and mobility just to be in that position. This was the first significant visit to the home half by Cranbrook and they could, perhaps should, have received due reward for their resilient defence when a penalty chance now was just missed in the last kick of the half.
At half time Ed Koops replaced Dylan Eames, illustrating the difficult selection choices for Heathfield in some areas at present with the two of them and Ross contesting the two second row positions.
The home lineout was not functioning too well but enough possession was being secured elsewhere for this not to be critical on the day. Debutant Eric Tamsen made a very positive impression at hooker with the home scrum going well – he was also noted with several effective carries and moved to loose head later on where he seemed very comfortable.
Cranbrook will have had hopes of turning the game around in the second half with the close score line and the slight slope in their favour from now on. Indeed most of the early play was in the middle of the field in contrast to the first half. However the home forward power gradually reasserted itself: Fraser Goatcher made a useful turnover and had some powerful runs ball in hand, Ross continued to make an impact, Gus Taylor often won loose ball and David Bayly was just everywhere. They were also well supported at the breakdown by the backs with Henry Armstrong being noted with one precise clear out. Eventually quick ball and good hands gave Ed Koops the opportunity to charge over in the left hand corner (10-0).
Ollie Stables now gave Goatcher a rest although the rejigged front row continued to be dominant, and Jack Armstrong made a decent first appearance when he replaced Rob Fenner.
With just over twenty minutes remaining Duff knocked over a penalty to edge Heathfield further in front. However an error by Heathfield at the restart gave Cranbrook decent position and they showed good hands to collect a well-taken try in the left hand corner (13-5). Throughout the second half Cranbrook kept threatening to break out through their several pacy three quarters but they were usually starting from their own twenty two so the home cover was able to contain the threats, with Josh Mullett making one of his very rare appearances in the first team and doing well at full back.
Any hopes that Cranbrook may have had at this stage were now extinguished as Munch May won a turnover and on the short side fed Duff who had a relatively simple task to finish under the posts, and then convert his own try (20-5).
In the last few minutes most of the play was in the visitors’ half as Heathfield pressed for the bonus point try. Taylor knocked on over the line and it looked as though the chance had gone. However in the last play of the game quick ruck ball was moved wide with a lovely miss-pass by Jones and H Armstrong dived over in the left hand corner – bonus point secured!
A bonus point win over the league co-leaders was naturally pleasing to supporters and coaches although there were concerns about the failure to convert so much possession in the first half.
After a week off Heathfield next resume acquaintance with Eastbourne after a gap of some years, thankfully back to normal kickoff times (7 Nov 2.30).
A club record was established in the game between Heathfield and Crowborough 3rd teams when Jonny Smith scored seven tries for the home team. Final result Heathfield 68 Crowborough 19.