Heathfield avoid relegation in spite of big home loss
Medway too strong for game but injury-hit home side
Heathfield 10 Medway 51
Heathfield retained their position in London SE2 for another year thanks to results elsewhere. On the pitch the league champions Medway strolled to an eight try to one win against a game but limited home side. Injuries and assorted availability issues meant that this was a much changed and weaker side than Heathfield would have liked. Late withdrawals for illness and injury upset preparations and then Sean Crozier had to retire to the bench shortly before kickoff through illness so Harry Reilly started at fly half. Eventually Heathfield just ran out of bodies against a large well-drilled opposition who belong in a higher league.
In the early exchanges David Bayly nearly succeeded with an audacious interception but the subsequent pass went wrong. Medway soon started to establish their preferred pattern of play with strong direct running and skilful offloads to supporting runners. This led to a decent try on the left hand side after seven minutes (0-5).
However Heathfield immediately came back with a move from a set scrum as a lovely Reilly pass set Toby Wallace and George Gomersall off down the left flank in an excellent move that just went wrong on the visitors’ try line.
Indeed Heathfield now had one of their best periods in the game with several challenging attacks in which Ethan Walker often figured with combative runs. The Medway backs did look uncomfortable when the young Heathfield three quarters ran at them. During this period Heathfield had two long range penalty attempts but Mylo Vanner-Macken was just off target with both.
Sadly Bayly now had to retire with a reportedly serious knee injury. He has been one of Heathfield’s most influential players this season so this was a serious loss. Nonetheless debutant James Pancaldi now replaced him and was afterwards one of those picked out for special praise for a feisty and important contribution.
A major part of Medway’s success comes from their back row with three sizeable and skilful players who make good yards and combine well. Heathfield’s back row of Pancaldi, Harry Vidler and Walker had a tough but worthy day at the office against this impressive unit. The Medway No 8, Jordan Stubbington, had a great game, typically making ten yards off the back of the scrum and collecting at least two tries.
Toby Warren continued his excellent season with a strong run which was exploited through a couple of phases and eventually Ollie Brown put George Gomersall in for fine try, converted by Vanner-Macken (7-5). Medway soon replied as their second row, Alex O’Leary, ran onto a good pass and then had remarkable pace to score from forty yards out (7-10).
Heathfield were still being competitive at this stage and a Vanner-Macken penalty levelled the score (10-10). However the physical toll was mounting and Sean Crozier, although not really fit, replaced the injured Toby Wallace. Medway regained the lead with a penalty (10-13) and then after a big run by Stubbington, they closed the first half with a try for their fly half Charlie Wardzynski who enjoyed a good day behind a pack generally going forward (10-20).
The second half was fairly one-sided as Medway were too big and well-drilled for the game home side so tries came steadily.
Munch May was widely praised for his combative efforts in defence against much larger opponents. Veteran Kobe Tonkin defied the years to put in a full 80 minutes with plenty of useful carries. Walker eventually had to leave the field for injury and Tom Watkins made yet another fine contribution from the bench. Indeed Heathfield took a ball against the head with Watkins on and Fraser Goatcher in the second row – and this on a day when the Medway scrum mostly had a distinct edge. Goatcher also had a number of useful runs ball in hand and his front row colleague Ollie Stables had yet another impactful game with big tackles and yards gained.
Gomersall was now binned for offside,’ taking one for the team’ and Heathfield’s position was worsened when Crozier had to leave the field for injury, at least partly caused by a late hit that resulted in a yellow card for the Medway number 6.
In spite of being two men short, Heathfield only leaked one try in this period. Indeed the home defence looked in good shape as it generally contained repeated charges on the five metre line.
The final try was claimed by Stubbington with a fine run from at least half way as tired home legs finally gave him best.
There is clearly a gulf between London 1 sides like Medway, and then the large London based sides who occupy the remaining top half of the SE2 table. After them there is a huge gap of 26 league points and six of the seven sides below that break are community based sides such as Heathfield.
A look at this year’s Heathfield results shows that at home they won 5 out of 11 (including two wins against teams finishing 3rd and 4th) and until today’s result never lost at home by more than 5 points. The away performance is poor but a little improvement in the home results will keep Heathfield at this level.
Crowborough can validly say that they have been punching above their weight in surviving at this level for several years and Heathfield, with half the population of Crowborough, will doubtless face a similar battle in future years. Crowborough and Bromley, who were probably relegated after today’s results, will be looking for a prompt return to this level next season. They, and Heathfield, are probably best described as level 7 ½ sides who will always float between the two leagues (unless someone waves a chequebook!).
Well done to Medway, best wishes to Old Colfeians in their playoff for promotion, sympathy to Dartfordians who were worthy of a promotion place but are denied by the vagaries of the disciplinary system.