Bonus point away win by much changed team
Heathfield have too much pace for game Burgess Hill
Burgess Hill 19 Heathfield 45
Heathfield collected a seven tries to two bonus point away win at Burgess Hill although they slipped to second place in the table on points difference as Bromley racked up a big score elsewhere.
Heathfield had a much changed side for a variety of reasons with four current Colts involved as an illustration of the developing depth of the team. The change in personnel and some positional switches meant some of the teamwork was less accurate than usual with ball carriers becoming isolated and penalties duly arriving.
Burgess Hill sensibly chose to play this game on a distinctly softer pitch than the dust bowl directly outside their clubhouse which thus enabled them to play to their strength of a solid and effective set piece. However Heathfield were able to match them in the forwards and just had too much pace in the back division.
Playing down the considerable slope the home side soon showed their preferred tactics as good positional kicking put them into the visitors’ half and they duly took the lead with an early penalty (3-0). However Heathfield countered almost immediately and some good hands by Haidar Maliki, Henry Ross and Ben Boorman gave Ollie Brown the sort of chance in the right hand corner on which he thrives (3-7). Sam Goatcher converted impressively as he did all day, only missing two of the seven conversions, many of them difficult.
In spite of playing up the slope the visitors were looking dangerous and a similar chance in the right hand corner just failed when Boorman could not control the ball when over the line.
Heathfield may have become a little complacent and they were justly punished as they attempted to run out of defence and then a belated kick for safety was charged down for the home side to crash over in the left hand corner (8-7).
A tasty Heathfield attack on the left flank was just foiled as George Gomersall was bundled into touch in the corner but Heathfield were not to be denied and more good handling involving Tom Glenn, Maliki and Goatcher allowed Boorman to put the visitors back in the lead (8-12). This was soon reduced by a home penalty (11-12) while another home attack was stifled by an impressive tackle by Brown. This was becoming a competitive match but the home number 5 was now binned for excessive behaviour in some handbags. Heathfield failed to take advantage of the extra man but will have viewed the second half with optimism with the slope and breeze to come in their favour.
Even so Burgess Hill regained the lead early in the second half with a penalty (14-12) but that was the end of the good news for them for some time.
Repeated Heathfield attacks down the slope finally saw Maliki collect his first try for the club after some effective and muscular approach work by Ross in particular (14-19). Maliki’s value to the team lies more in the unobtrusive defensive work that he does so well and it was thus pleasant to see his efforts rewarded. The next try came from a lineout catch and drive which allowed Fraser Goatcher, skipper for the day, to touch down at the back of a well-organised maul (14-26). This was the bonus point try but for a change Heathfield did not think the job was completed.
A lineout steal, by either Ross or Maliki, was driven on in midfield with Ed Koops making many yards and then the ball was worked wide, with a fine pickup by Glenn, for Brown to collect his second on the day.
Heathfield were now making multiple changes with Lewis Headland making a welcome first appearance at this level, Eric Tamsen joining the front row to give Richard Poole a deserved rest and Oli Robertshaw replacing Maliki.
Although Heathfield were having most of the play the home side were not daunted and managed a brave drive up their left flank to be rewarded by a try in broken play (19-31). Veteran No 8 Dave Wattam was at the heart of most of the good play by the home team. With home legs tiring Heathfield continued to pound away and Nick Cook was on hand from a breakdown on the home line to dive over for the next try (19-38). Cook did some useful work in the loose and was the main receiver in the lineout which worked well today. Glenn finished the scoring under the posts after an extended move as the home defence waited for the final whistle.
Next weekend Heathfield make the long trek to Devon for the National Semi Final in the RFU Senior Vase (Withycombe 26 Mar 2.00). This promises to be a tough contest. The players today knew that they were playing for a seat on the coach and it is pleasant to say that there will be some difficult selectorial decisions.