Unbeaten league leaders assert their authority
Much changed Heathfield (again!) play well in away defeat
Dartfordians 49 Heathfield 22
In a highly entertaining match Heathfield eventually gave best to unbeaten league leaders Dartfordians by six tries to three but not before they had taken the lead just before half time and often had the home side under pressure. The starting 15 today showed just 5 of the team that started the last league game two weeks ago but somehow this novel combination put together a very heartening performance.
A strong but variable breeze was across the pitch and made kicking out of hand tricky all day. Heathfield had first use of the slight slope. Although Darts botched the kick off they immediately asserted themselves by taking a Heathfield scrum and then charging into the top right hand corner, winning a lineout and then driving over the line to be awarded a penalty try (7-0) with two minutes on the clock.
Given that the home team has won two home league games this year by 83-0 and 118-0 this might have been the start of another one-sided encounter. However the rest of the first half was one of the most entertaining and well-contested periods so far this season. Heathfield started to establish some possession and position with neat handling and a penalty to the right hand corner was carried on through several phases before Fraser Goatcher
charged over the line carrying several opponents. Ben Boorman
converted impressively (7-7). Boorman was playing out of position at fly half but generally got his line moving, defended well and late on was only just prevented from using his considerable pace.
Darts replied almost immediately with a try from one of the strongest features of their game as a tap penalty was carried on by a flanker and second row with strong direct running and clever off-loading (14-7). The game was fluctuating all over the pitch and Heathfield were looking very competitive. Will Tyler
caught the eye with a strong run on the right wing and on another occasion a well-constructed attack into the bottom left hand corner just failed from a missed last pass.
After 25 minutes Munch May
created a try by robbing the home scrum-half at the base of a scrum, making good yards and then neat passing saw Tyler collect his first try at this level (14-12).
A rain squall threatened to make conditions difficult but it soon passed. More Heathfield pressure mainly through some effective pick and go by the forwards earned its reward with a penalty in front of the posts and a yellow card for the home loose head (14-15).
However the home side had the last word in the half as they charged back up the slope and a penalty for offside allowed them to regain the lead (17-15).
Some home supporters were already making appreciative comments about Heathfield’s back row in which Nick Cook
was quite outstanding in all phases with lineout takes, carries and tackles. Harry Vidler
did lots of tough abrasive work on the blindside and Oli Robertshaw made any number of good carries all over the park.
Darts success is largely based on their pack which is skilful, athletic and very well drilled. Their scrummage enjoys a small, low front row and is the only team to have the edge on Heathfield in this phase so far this season.
In spite of the closeness of the scoreline at half time, the home support were probably justified in expecting a more decisive second period with the slope in their favour. On several occasions good kicking out of hand now pinned Heathfield back into their own half in a way that the visitors had failed to achieve earlier.
Early in the second half Darts extended their lead with a penalty (20-15). Nonetheless their choice of a penalty rather than going for the riskier option of a lineout showed respect for the visitors. However Goatcher now had to retire with damaged shoulder. This enabled 18 year old Felix Godwin
to make his first appearance at this level in daunting circumstances, against the best scrummage Heathfield has faced this year with over half an hour to go. He fully justified his selection in the tight and was also noted with some good handling.
Darts now decided the game with a try (25-15), another penalty and then another try, this time under the posts (35-15). The last try was somewhat fortunate as a blatant dangerous no-arms tackle escaped sanction and a Darts player scooped up the resulting loose ball and scampered away for the score.
With about 15 minutes remaining Heathfield showed they were not going to roll over. May, who was having a characteristically gutsy and busy game, collected loose ball near his own 22, chipped ahead and then followed up so energetically that he hammered the Darts player who had caught the ball. The ball came loose, the visitors back row swarmed through and finally Cook dived over for a deserved try, again well converted (off the upright) by Boorman (35-22).
In the last few minutes the home side collected two more tries as gaps appeared from tiring legs. Heathfield tried valiantly for one more try which would have earned a bonus point but the hosts were not that generous.
was another youthful debutant and he attracted many positive comments as he formed a useful second row partnership with the returning Ed Koops
, who also made plenty of hard yards. At full back another 18 year old newcomer Tom Cornwall
had a solid day in difficult circumstances.
Heathfield have now had 40 different players on the team sheets in the first six league games for a multitude of reasons. This has made the coaches’ task very difficult. Clearly the ability is there but a team needs consistency, stability and training together to achieve results as Darts showed today.
Various players returned to action today and more are due back this week so there are hopes that the team will start to settle down – it needs to in a league where there are few straight forward games as today’s results elsewhere showed. Good performances when losing are all very well but hard league points are needed, not moral victories.
Next Saturday Heathfield entertain Charlton Park (28 October 3.00pm).