Home bonus point win but disappointing second half
Eastbourne resurgence after the half time interval
Heathfield 28 Eastbourne 3
Heathfield duly collected a four try bonus point win over Eastbourne with a clinical first half performance but their failure to ram home their apparent superiority in the second half will be a cause for concern. To their considerable credit Eastbourne reorganised themselves at half time and overall had the better of the second half albeit without troubling the scorer.
In fairly miserable conditions Heathfield had first use of the slight slope and duly had the better of the first half in which they played some decent rugby. Some of the handling by both teams was impressive given the often wet ball and mud.
The home pack secured plenty of possession and the backs often looked threatening in yet another different combination with Tom Glenn at full back and Ethan Walker restored to outside centre. After a couple of shaky moments early on Glenn had a thoroughly sound day in both attack and defence and is clearly a versatile player which helps as Heathfield are still trying to settle on their best combination in several areas.
Harry Reilly continues to impress at inside centre. He converted all four tries but gained particular plaudits for his tackling today along with keeping the line moving in attack.
The competition for places in the pack remains considerable. Henry Ross moved back to the second row and was again noted with some important early lineout steals that helped keep the pressure on the visitors and led to at least one try. David Bayly had his usual but none the less massively impressive game with many yards gained and tackles made, as well as some fine lineout work. Haidar Maliki enjoyed his return to the starting lineup and his defensive efforts may be inconspicuous but they are a key part of the overall team defence which is the best in this league based on points conceded.
Early Heathfield pressure into the bottom right hand corner led to a Ross lineout steal and in the ensuing loose play Munch May was able to dart through for the first try (7-0).
Heathfield kept up the pressure with Walker making many yards with a lovely line of running although the defence just proved adequate. However Eastbourne were starting to have injury problems, with a second row, fly half and full back all being replaced before half time.
The second try came from turnover ball at a scrum and Bayly charged over (14-0).
Eastbourne were not daunted and managed one decent foray into the home half but the home defence contained the threat.
A few minutes before half time more sustained pressure on the visitors’ line eventually gave Bryn Jones the chance to step his way over (21-0).
The all-important bonus point try was now scored by George Gomersall with an outstanding individual effort from near the half way line. Some sharp footwork took him away from any immediate threats and he then sped down the left hand touchline, several times employing a very effective hand-off before finishing under the posts (28-0).
In the last moments of the half Eastbourne showed their resilience by surging back up the slope and were rewarded with a penalty that opened their account, and remarkably ended the scoring on the day (28-3).
At half time Eastbourne decided on some slight adjustments which included the key decision to commit one more person to each breakdown. This reflected Heathfield’s edge in that area in the first half and resulted in their both slowing down the home side’s possession and some important turnovers.
Eastbourne started the second half with impressive commitment and more accurate execution than they had achieved in the first half. By contrast the home side seemed to be content to contain the visitors’ threat and relied on their usually sound defensive organisation which duly delivered.
However fifteen minutes into the half, the visiting tight head had to retire with an injury and the game was completed thereafter with uncontested scrums. Several people, including the referee, afterwards commented that this took the intensity out of the game with friendly banter between the front rows.
Eastbourne did manage a number of attacks that looked promising and they really should have scored from one which only failed from some final finger trouble. They were also helped by some poor kicking out of defence by Heathfield which just allowed them to restart attacks.
With ten minutes remaining Heathfield eventually seemed to shake off their attacking lethargy and worked their way into the visitors’ half for just about the first time in the second half. After several phases pressing into the corner beneath the clubhouse balcony, Heathfield skipper Ollie Smith finally crashed over near the posts but was adjudged to have dropped the ball in grounding.
The game then petered out in the mud and gloom.
Afterwards Heathfield Head Coach Dave Cook was both pleased and exasperated. He was delighted by the first half performance with the team’s almost clinical execution and taking of chances. By contrast the second half was disappointing from his perspective although this perhaps does not give sufficient credit to the impressive resurgence by Eastbourne. Also the introduction of uncontested scrums took the competitive edge out of the game. Nonetheless this is not the first time this year that Heathfield have gone off the boil after the bonus point try has been secured. The final league table standings could yet depend upon points difference.
Heathfield wish Eastbourne well for the rest of the season. If they can produce complete games with what they showed in the second half today they will trouble any team in this league.
Next Saturday Heathfield visit Pulborough (20 Feb 2.30).