Heathfield promoted after close contest
Green scrummage proves decisive
Aylesford Bulls 18 Heathfield 21
Heathfield finally edged past Aylesford Bulls in a closely fought contest and thus secured the second promotion slot in London SE3. Given the significance of the fixture it was played in a cup atmosphere where the result was all-important and bonus points, although available, were not critical.
Both sides scored two tries so it might be thought that goal kicking was decisive – in fact it was the strong Heathfield scrummage that finally emerged as the deciding factor.
Plentiful supporters, especially from Aylesford, ensured that the game was played in a lively atmosphere. It was also pleasant to see the local MP and Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch at the excellent pre-match lunch and then on the touchline. If only all Ministers were so well in contact with their areas of responsibility.
Heathfield had first use of the variable breeze although it was not a huge influence on the game as it often faded to nothing. Heathfield had the better of the first quarter in both possession and position although the early play was characterised by frequent turnovers by both sides. This was probably down to a few nerves as conditions were generally excellent. Heathfield looked to have an early advantage in the scrummage but that seemed to be nullified for the rest of the first half.
Most of the play was in the home half and Harry Reilly
was immaculate in his place kicking with three penalties during this period (0-9).
Heathfield also had some good attacking opportunities but the home defence was effective. On two occasions in the home 22 Bryn Jones
chipped over the rapidly advancing home defensive line but the bounce of the ball and good covering prevented any damage. Haidar Maliki was having a big game in defence but also made a couple of useful forays ball in hand.
Jones had to leave the field for injury which may have resulted from his customary hard tackling that is such an often un-noticed but useful feature of his game. Lewis Headland
came on to the wing with Reilly moving to fly-half where he had a sound game with some important kicks out of hand in the second half, and five out of six successful place kicks.
With ten minutes remaining in the half some visiting supporters were starting to feel comfortable. The recent history of games between these two sides suggested that was unwise and in the last ten minutes of the half the Bulls duly came roaring back. They started to achieve more possession and eventually set up camp in the right hand corner. Although initially repelled, not least by a characteristic lineout steal by Henry Ross
, they soon opened their account with a penalty (3-9). Then in the last play of the half a kick out of defence by Heathfield was run back most impressively by the home number 8 and then the ball quickly moved wide for the best try of the game in the right hand corner (8-9).
At half time Ed Koops
finally admitted defeat in his battle against flu and gave way to Dylan Eames
who went on to make a noteworthy contribution. As well as being part of an increasingly strong scrummage he also did some useful work in the mauls and made a number of forceful runs with the ball.
Initially in the second half Aylesford looked threatening and one attack was just thwarted when the ball didn’t bounce kindly for one of their centres with the line at his mercy. Nonetheless they did take the lead with a penalty (11-9). However the game was then effectively decided in the next fifteen minutes as the Heathfield scrummage became the key influence on the game. Ethan Walker
made one of his physical and penetrating runs to help achieve good position in the right hand corner. Heathfield hammered away and from a 5 metre scrummage Oli Robertshaw did what he normally does (11-14).
The Heathfield front row take much credit for the outcome today. Ollie Smith
, apart from talking too much to the referee, leads the team with increasing authority. Fraser Goatcher
is an authoritative and improving loose head while Eric Tamsen had an outstanding game in all phases with a combative and committed performance.
More Heathfield pressure into that corner was just denied by some desperate tackling and a harsh knock-on call against Sam Goatcher
. However the green eight were not to be denied and having pushed the opposition off their own ball, after a couple of phases F Goatcher muscled his way over for the probably decisive try (11-21). Another scoring opportunity appeared when Headland made a tasty run down the right wing but the cover defence just proved adequate.
Aylesford now needed two scores and were playing with ambition, but the clock was against them. They were not helped by having their fly half binned just at this critical stage, possibly for backchat. Just when it looked as though Heathfield were weathering the storm, a fly hack ahead reached the visitors’ posts and S Goatcher was adjudged (harshly some felt) to have carried the ball over. From the resulting scrummage the home no 8 made another useful carry and found a supporting runner who dived over to reduce the difference to 3 points (18-21).
The Aylesford no 8 was their most influential player on the day and the way he was mostly contained by the Heathfield defence had a big impact on the course of the game.
Thankfully for the visiting supporters’ blood pressure, the last few moments of the game were in the home half. Aylesford needed a try as a penalty would only have resulted in a draw and that would still have given Heathfield the promotion slot – but time ran out.
This was a team performance by a squad which had clearly been affected in the last couple of weeks by the disappointment in Devon. The refound spirit and determination will certainly be needed next year in the harder world of London SE2.
The league table shows that these two sides along with Bromley are at a different level from the rest of the sides in this division and Aylesford deserve sympathy for just missing out.
This match completed the league season but Heathfield still have unfinished business with a Sussex Bob Rogers Cup match away to Hove on 7th May.