Heathfield draw but go top of the table
Hard away day against resilient opponents
Gillingham Anchorians 18 Heathfield 18
Heathfield returned to the top of London SE3 in spite of drawing away to Gillingham in a game where both sides had valid claims to have deserved victory. Earlier in the season Heathfield had been the victor by a large margin in the reverse fixture but they always knew that today would be a different matter.
Injury and availability issues resulted in three changes in the pack from last week’s draw with Park House. Then the Heathfield pack had been under pressure but today they became the dominant force in the game.
One of the pack changes was the introduction of Kasper Solli into the second row and his physical attributes certainly appeared to help the scrummage. But early on he caught the eye with some direct forceful running ball in hand and this was repeated throughout the game. He can become a useful player at this level as he becomes more incorporated into the team’s style of play.
After early kicking exchanges Heathfield secured the first consistent possession and drove into the home half and after four minutes were awarded a penalty, duly slotted by Lucas Cuming (0-3).
However Gillingham replied almost immediately with an outstanding individual try by their full back who stepped around several unavailing tackles to touch down near the right hand corner (7-3). This proved to be another significant feature of the game as the home team repeatedly counter attacked with individual skill in the backs and the Heathfield defence had its worst day, in terms of points scored against, since the first match of the league season.
When in possession Heathfield were doing a lot of good things and soon approached the home try line with Oli Robertshaw and David Bayly making useful yards. A lineout in the left hand corner from a penalty was driven and initially held but Nick Cook secured the ball at the back of the maul and worked his way over (7-8).
In the flowing nature of this game Gillingham soon returned to the lead with another penalty (10-8).
However the visitors were looking dangerous in attack and Ollie Brown had a number of handy runs on the right wing: from one of them Cook was well up in support and only just denied in the corner. Similarly on the other wing Henry Armstrong had a number of useful runs although he lost control of the ball in the tackle after his most threatening attack.
From initial near parity the Heathfield scrummage gradually worked its way into dominance and Fraser Goatcher, Richard Cooley and skipper Ollie Smith had a tough but rewarding day at the office with good support from Solli and Ed Koops.
After half an hour Heathfield regained the lead as another secure scrum was exploited by Munch May who linked cleverly with Brown who found all the gap he needed (10-13).
Gillingham inevitably responded with more skilful running aided by poor tackling and were duly rewarded by a penalty (13-13). Just on half time Heathfield also had a long penalty chance but Cuming had a difficult day off the tee after his initial success and that remained his only contribution.
At half time Heathfield coach David Cook highlighted the defensive frailties although this had mixed results. Simen Hammer now joined the fray replacing Ethan Walker and soon afterwards Rob Fenner replaced Armstrong.
By now the Heathfield were opting for scrummages at many penalties given their superiority in that phase allied to some fallible kicking out of hand. The visitors’ forwards developed some useful momentum with important contributions from Solli and Koops. Pressure on the home line now resulted in a yellow card for the home No 8 who otherwise had a fine game for his side, at times under great pressure.
While Heathfield chose to tap the resulting penalty and the ensuing move was duly snuffed out, soon afterwards good pressure took them back to the same corner and this time made no mistake with a pushover try for Robertshaw (13-18) at approximately half way through the half.
Naturally Gillingham responded and saw another penalty go wide. Then another promising attack into the left hand corner was ended when Cook stole a 5 metre lineout and allowed the visitors to relieve the pressure.
In reply Heathfield had a period of pressure on the home try line with the penalty count rising against Gillingham although no card resulted. The last few minutes of the game were however spent in the visitors’ 22 and Gillingham bravely counter attacked and then pressured the Heathfield try line. Now Heathfield were repeatedly penalised although they also escaped any card sanction.
Cook was noted with a critical and clinical turnover at the breakdown which foiled one attack.
The last few minutes will have seemed endless to the players as Gillingham hammered away. In fact the second half lasted just under 55 minutes in elapsed time and while there had been a number of stoppages some began to query the official timekeeping.
Finally Gillingham worked their way over for the tying score: however with the last kick of the game their kicker was unable to secure the victory for which they had worked so hard.
Gillingham can take great pride in their performance today and their recent results show that they are on an upward path. Heathfield will be disappointed in their performance for the second week in a row. However it should be noted that Heathfield started the league season with two losses but have remained unbeaten since. So perhaps these two substandard performances since the extended Xmas break will be the trigger for better results going forward.
The results elsewhere in the league show that those of us who thought that the promotion places would only concern three clubs now have to acknowledge that Folkestone and Park House are snapping at the leaders heels and will have a major say in the final positions. It just goes to show what an excellently competitive league this is.
Next week Heathfield entertain Old Dunstonians (23 Jan 2.00pm) and today’s results will ensure that no opponents will be taken lightly.