Try bonus point secured by another much-changed team
Hove 40 Heathfield 26
Hove were the worthy winners by six tries to four in an entertaining contest as might be expected from the relative league positions. As usual Heathfield took the field with a side much changed from last week – a routine six changes – and indeed over the previous two days with dropouts for a variety of reasons not all of which were acceptable to the coaches.
Hove have a talented backline that has often played together. Heathfield as usual played a young back division with potential but one that had never played together before.
In the first ten minutes the home backs collected two converted tries through pace allied with good handling to outflank the visitors’ defence (14-0).
Any thought that this would be a walkover were thankfully soon dispelled as a penalty gave Heathfield good position in the left hand corner where Haidar Maliki secured lineout ball and from the subsequent drive Oli Robertshaw collected an important try in terms of giving the visitors some belief( 14-5).
That belief was soon tested again as another wide Hove move down the right flank just evaded the touchline for another seven pointer (21-5).
However the Heathfield pack were becoming an increasing force in the game with the scrummage having an clear edge. The home lineout looked effective while Heathfield were limited by the absence of some regular operators in this phase but they achieved most of their own ball chiefly through Maliki.
Hove were looking dangerous but Heathfield will be pleased with several extended periods of play when their defence was tested through repeated phases. Ethan Walker now retired with an ankle injury so Fraser Goatcher joined the fray and Ollie Stables moved into the back row where he was noted with some decent work.
Just after half an hour Hove secured their try bonus point with another wide move down their left flank (26-5).
Apart from the irritation of the Hove backs scoring tries out wide Heathfield were having a decent game otherwise and good scrum ball followed by a penalty gave them an attacking lineout in the left hand corner. A sequence of lineouts and scrums was repelled by Hove but the penalty count against them was rising. Finally lineout ball was secured and Fabian Rimmer arrived at the right moment to charge through the final defenders, converted by Harry Reilly (26-12).
At half time Hove will have been fairly confident about the final outcome and this belief will have been confirmed as slow handling in the visitors’ midfield soon donated a walk-in intercept try to Hove (33-12). Nonetheless this irritated Heathfield and they arguably had the better of the rest of the game, albeit in a losing cause. Pressure into the home 22 resulted in another penalty and the Hove no 4 was duly binned. Some home supporters were unhappy about this but the ref had given them a final warning just before half time.
To Hove’s credit Heathfield did not manage to take advantage of the extra man in the next ten minutes, partly due to some sensible game management in taking an unlikely kick at goal to run the clock down. In fact Hove should have scored but one of their players secured ‘dick of the day’ with a fine piece of skill by chipping ahead and only having to pick the ball up unopposed but managing to knock on two feet short of the line.
Entering the last quarter Hove did collect their final score of the game with a set piece run through the centre that will have warmed the heart of their backs coach (40-12).
It can be argued that Hove now relaxed with the result clear but Heathfield will take pleasure from finishing much the stronger. First a strong scrum provided good ball to the backs and Tristan Surgey worked his way over near the posts (40-19).
After more repeated pressure on the home line Robertshaw was adjudged just short from a five metre scrum. Hove did manage to repel one attack to take the play back into the visitors’ half but a fine Reilly line kick took play back into the home half. Thereafter the green pack hammered away with Goatcher along with several others making some good yards down the slope. Finally the pressure told in the left hand corner and Robertshaw was credited with the all-important bonus point try beside the corner flag. Your correspondent was standing next to a Hove supporter who said he would give 100-1 against the conversion – he’s either a poor judge of a kicker or a good judge of when to make a silly offer. Either way, Reilly converted and no money changed hands. (40-26)
The final minutes saw some fevered play as Heathfield again pressed into the home 22 but in truth a score would not have changed anything – Hove had their bonus point win and Heathfield had at least a try bonus point.
Maliki had one of his best games for Heathfield with some fine lineout work and his characteristic impactful tackles. Lewis Headland, Harry Vidler, Robertshaw and Munch May had their moments but overall Heathfield had to give best to what is probably the best backs unit in this league.
Next Saturday Heathfield start the second half of the league season against Haywards Heath who are having a very decent season so this will be a good test as Heathfield look to extract every possible league point in the familiar fight to avoid relegation. (16 Dec 2.00)