Away win at Folkestone...
... but bonus point missed
Folkestone 5 Heathfield 22
Recent results and the league table suggested that this would be a close contest. In the event Heathfield emerged as clear winners although their failure to secure a try bonus point meant that they slipped to second place in the league table.
Heathfield had the better of the early exchanges winning a couple of breakdowns and spoiling a home lineout. Most of the play was fluctuating between the 22’s as two evenly matched sides tried to work each other out. Heathfield started to build some decent momentum but the home team always looked dangerous on the counter attack. One such rally led to a clear three on one overlap in the bottom corner which looked like a straightforward Folkestone try but a chip ahead went dead.
Gradually Heathfield began to assert with Bryn Jones making some precise kicks out of hand to sustain the forward momentum. Good lineout ball was then taken through a couple of phases until Henry Armstrong was just denied in the right hand corner.
After twenty five minutes a home lineout was turned over by Nick Cook and after a couple of phases Cook was able to collect his first try at this level (0-5). He had an excellent all round game, ruining any number of home lineouts at the front and also doing some useful work in the loose.
At this stage the scrummage was fairly even but Heathfield were starting to enjoy lineouts, not least through Cook’s efforts. Ethan Walker was also making huge holes in the home defence and he had one of his most effective days with strong direct running gaining many yards. Once behind a defensive line, opportunities appear and from one of Walkers’ runs in the home 22, quick ball enabled Jones to chip into the corner and it took the efforts of two defenders to hold up Henry Armstrong.
After the game Head Coach Dave Cook bemoaned the number of errors in this period and Heathfield skipper Ollie Smith was heard requiring his players to be more clinical. Heathfield are trying to play a high tempo close passing game but a slow doughy pitch such as this one can make it difficult. It was also disappointing that Heathfield failed to exploit what was probably their most potent back three of the season (Ollie Brown, Ben Boorman, Armstrong).
Nonetheless Ed Koops and Haidar Maliki were both noted making many hard yards at the heart of the forward effort along with some excellent steals in the tackle by Eric Tamsen.
Eventually from a five metre scrummage on the home line Oli Robertshaw was able to benefit from the increasingly dominant scrummage, duly converted by Chester Duff (0-12).
In the second half an early scrummage ball against the head allowed Walker to make another sizeable break and the pressure led to a simple penalty for Duff to extend the lead (0-15). However this was still a well-contested game and a Folkestone attack into the right hand corner was only just contained by some decent cover tackling. Fraser Goatcher now retired with a shoulder tweak allowing Richard Cooley to make yet another important contribution as he caused typical grief in the scrummage.
Folkestone continued to have some decent possession and position in the Heathfield half at this stage but this was at least partially due to the penalty count against Heathfield. This was in considerable contrast to the home side who attracted very little whistle throughout the game.
With fifteen minutes gone in the half Folkestone now collected their only score of the game with a well-taken try as a centre ran on to a delightful chip by their fly half (5-15).
However this triggered an immediate response by Heathfield who swept back down the field in one of their most impressive sequences of play with skipper Olly Smith being noticed with some important carries. Walker finally claimed the try as he stretched out, just reaching the line (5-22).
With twenty five minutes to go Heathfield will have been looking for the try bonus point, but not for the first time this season they failed to complete an otherwise impressive performance.
An extended period of pressure on the home try line eventually ended when Munch May was adjudged to have knocked on just short of the line and Folkestone were able to scramble the ball clear.
In the last play of the game the home side, to their credit, were attacking in the Heathfield 22 when Duff was just unable to cling on to the ball in an attempted interception that would have secured the try bonus point.
While Walker was the justifiable man of the match, many spectators commented positively on the live wire performance by May whose play has matured noticeably over the last two seasons. Some wiser old heads on and off the pitch were also strong in their appreciation of how Jones had controlled the game with some excellent kicking out of hand but also reading the game and managing the players around him.
Folkestone came into this game with hopes of challenging the top three in the table. This may not be their year but Heathfield will take them very seriously in the return fixture next year.
At this half way stage in the league programme, the two promotion places look to be between Aylesford, Bromley and Heathfield with the games between them being decisive – a loss to any other side might be fatal.
After a three week break Heathfield return to league action with a home game against Park House who are the last side to beat Heathfield back on a memorable afternoon in September, not necessarily remembered for the right reasons. (Jan 9 2.00pm).