Bromley beat much-changed Heathfield
Home team second half efforts decisive
Bromley 31 Heathfield 18
Bromley were the clear winners in this incident-strewn game that has a big impact on the relegation contest in London SE2. In recent years contests between these two clubs have normally been won by the home side but this was the biggest margin in this fixture. Late morning the game had looked in doubt with a light snow covering of the pitch and ongoing sleet. However by kick off the excellent surface was snow free and unfrozen, allowing a much more open game than many had anticipated.
Heathfield had a much changed back division from the previous week with just three of last week’s seven remaining from what had been a very encouraging performance. Lucas Cuming started at fly-half and had a generally decent day mixing his options well. Bruno Halit made his first start for Heathfield at this level and often showed his strengths, especially in the first half. Halit is a ‘Return to Rugby’ recruit and illustrates the benefit of this RFU-sponsored programme.
Bromley showed some early promise, especially in their backs but a promising Heathfield counter-attack involving Oli Robertshaw looked to have put Joe Hastings away only for the final pass to be, perhaps harshly, adjudged forward. Nonetheless the visitors worked their way up the slight slope and opened the scoring with a Cuming penalty (0-3).
Bromley naturally replied and they capitalised on a fortunate bounce in a set scrum to achieve good position and then a penalty chance but it drifted wide. However they then used a very efficient lineout catch and drive to make good yards and then moving the ball wide secured a fine try in the right hand corner, well converted (7-3).
After twenty minutes Cuming reduced the deficit with another penalty (7-6) and this was becoming a good contest. The Heathfield pack was starting to work well with Fraser Goatcher making good yards ball in hand. Toby Wallace had a tasty run helping to achieve a good position in the top right corner where David Bayly, captain on the day, snatched opposition ball. A resulting 5 metre scrum went wrong and the chance appeared to have been lost.
However at the end of the half good hands moved the ball wide and from a resulting ruck Lewis Headland dodged his way under the posts (7-13).
This had been an even and entertaining contest to this point. The penalty count was almost equal and both teams will have fancied their chance.
Lineouts were pretty even but the scrummage was a problem area all day. The referee seemed to want the scrum to be steady for an unusually long time before allowing the ball to be fed. This led to repeated issues in this area and players afterwards commented on the difficulty of understanding what was required with consequent frustration.
The second half was very different in character from the first and Bromley take much credit as they started this period with much greater intensity and duly reaped the reward. They soon reduced the arrears with a penalty (10-13) and then again achieved good field position as Heathfield were twice marched back 10 metres for alleged rabbit. Then the visitors were hit with two yellows in quick succession as Cuming made contact too early with an opponent catching a high ball and then Ollie Smith was adjudged to have interfered with a lineout jumper in the air. The home team soon took the lead with a simple catch and drive (15-10). Smith otherwise had a noticeably active day in defence with thumping and well-timed tackles.
In spite of the inevitable ongoing pressure with two men short, Heathfield initially looked to be playing their way out of trouble with some good hands, but a turnover was now efficiently exploited for a Bromley try in the right hand corner (20-13).
By now the referee had made his mind up and all Bromley had to do, to the raucous delight of the home supporters in front of their clubhouse, was avoid mistakes and wait for the almost inevitable penalties, and these kept coming with their kicker soon extending the lead (23-13). Bayly was spending a lot of time talking to the referee with neither being pleased with the exchanges.
Just when Bromley will have started to feel confident, Robertshaw charged down a kick and Henry Ross was on hand to collect a worthy reward for his considerable efforts on the day (23-18).
With about five minutes remaining Heathfield will have hoped to hang on for a bonus point but more pressure into the right hand corner first saw another home penalty (26-18), then a yellow card for Haidar Maliki, soon followed by a concluding pushover try for the home side.
Whatever the validity of his decisions, Heathfield did not play the referee well while Bromley seized their moment at the start of the second half and effectively took control of the game thereafter.
Heathfield next entertain promotion challengers Charlton Park (18 Feb 2.30). This was the 16th league game of the season - injuries and availability have meant that they have used sixteen different back combinations. The depth of players is pleasing but it makes coaching very difficult.