Important home win for Heathfield
All-round team defensive efforts the critical factor
Heathfield 19 Charlton Park 13
Heathfield secured a welcome home victory over Charlton Park with an all-round team performance overcoming the much higher league-placed visitors who could never escape the home defensive efforts.
In ideal conditions on a decent surface Charlton Park secured the kick off and for the next two minutes looked a very classy side with pacy runners and good support carrying them deep into home territory. Some home supporters were bracing themselves for a difficult afternoon but this proved to be a false indication of what was to follow. The home scrummage soon started to establish a considerable edge and this firm base enabled Heathfield to work their way out of the bottom corner. Indeed they were soon in opposition territory and a Harry Reilly penalty would have been fair reward for pressure but he scuffed the kick.
However after ten minutes more scrummage pressure produced a ball against the head and after Nick Cook had made good ground from no 8, quick hands gave Toby Warren a little space and he finished well, converted by Reilly (7-0). Cook, on one of his rare appearances this year, made any number of yards ball in hand, often wriggling out of multiple tackles.
Both sides now had periods of pressure without either threatening the try line. Fraser Goatcher often made good yards in heavy traffic while Alex Wexler is being increasingly noted for hard work at close quarters. The Heathfield set piece looked efficient all day and often provided the platform to escape from their own 22. The visitors’ back division had caused considerable problems for Heathfield in the earlier fixture in London. Today the home defence showed consistently good line speed and increasingly effective tackling that stifled the very dangerous and talented opposition back line. The tackling of Warren, Reilly, Lewis Headland and Joe Hastings, often against bigger and older opponents, was a critical factor.
Nonetheless with five minutes left in the half Park did work their way down into the left hand corner and then a tap penalty five metres out gave one of their big men the chance to barge over for a try (7-5). This seemed to energise the visitors and in the last few minutes of the half they mounted a number of threatening attacks which took some remarkable defence with Henry Ross and Toby Wallace making especially important tackles. Ross also had a productive day in the lineout securing his own ball and making a couple of critical steals.
At half time Fraser Goatcher retired and replacement Tom Watkins put in a very decent shift. Given the slight slope now in their favour Heathfield will have been optimistic of a result but were only too well aware of having failed to close out winning positions earlier in the season.
Heathfield were content to work through phases rather more than the visitors who seemed to try to move the ball wide irrespective of the situation.
Also Heathfield were starting to punch holes at and around the breakdown. Sean Crozier is growing into his role at fly half and made several half breaks that could be exploited. From one of these Warren made a huge run that severely tested the visiting full back but he was unable to find support to finish off the attack. Then a very threatening Park attack reached the shadow of the home posts but a Wallace interception reversed the situation and after a foot race, again with the opposition full back, he was just hauled down 15 metres out. Nonetheless this gave Heathfield good field position and they now hammered away on the visitors’ line leading to a yellow card for a visiting prop substitute. Twice Heathfield chose to tap penalties and eventually David Bayly worked his way over for a hard-earned try (14-5). Bayly had yet another energetic and effective game with his pace, skill and commitment. He was part of an industrious back row with Cook and Haidar Maliki, plus replacement Oli Robertshaw, who did much to foil the large Park forwards.
In spite of being a man short, Park continued to make dangerous attacks with some effective running and support. One threatening lineout was bungled to leave Heathfield skipper Ollie Smith with the ball and a clear field in front of him some 75 metres out. This is not a situation that tight head props are equipped for and he did well to make good yards and then chip ahead although the support arrived too late for it to be exploited. Smith had a fine all-round game in the scrummage and in the loose. The front row generally had a good day with hooker Ollie Stables working hard in the loose.
More Park pressure into the home 22 was looking ominous after about 60 minutes when a turnover was slipped to Wallace near his own 22 and he had the skill to evade tacklers and then the pace to outrun pursuers for a fine try in the left hand corner (19-5).
The rest of the game was increasingly scrappy as Park could see the game slipping away and struggled to bring their key runners into the game while Heathfield were often scrambling to keep their defence in shape. At one point the tension resulted in an outbreak of handbags in which several individuals were fortunate to have remained on the pitch.
With about ten minutes remaining Park did finally collect a try as they again exploited a close-range tap penalty but the missed conversion meant that they still needed two scores for a result (19-10).
The home defence just proved adequate: Park thought they had a try under the posts but Munch May added to a fine and brave game as he managed to hold the ball up to thwart the visitors. May earned many plaudits for his energetic game generally and some brave tackling of much larger opponents.
Park were awarded a penalty in the final play and they duly took the three points to collect a losing bonus point (19-13).
Heathfield will take much pleasure in the whole team performance, especially in the spirited defence, which partly arose from a good training session in the week and which goes a long way to confirming their place in this league for next year, although five games remain and nothing is yet certain.
After a well-earned week off Heathfield next visit Dartford (4 Mar 3.00) who they just defeated earlier in the season. Dartford are challenging for a promotion spot so Heathfield will need to improve on their away form this season.