Dartfordians made to graft for bonus point win
Weakened Heathfield pack show plenty of fight
Heathfield 5 Dartfordians 26
Unbeaten league leaders Dartfordians eventually secured their bonus point victory against a weakened Heathfield but they were made to work hard throughout the full eighty minutes and the home side can take pleasure in their committed performance.
Rugby is a winter game and it is not always played on the croquet lawns enjoyed by the higher levels. Today was a reassertion of some of the fundamentals of the game on a muddy sticky surface and both teams emerged with credit.
Dartfordians chose to play down the slight slope in the first half. However Heathfield soon established a good position in the visitors’ half and a penalty chance followed although Harry Reilly’s kick went wide. However Dartfordians soon started to play to their undoubted strengths of good support play and an impressive carry by one of their front row was just stopped by a solid Fabian Rimmer tackle. However his disruption of a subsequent pass prevented a try so a penalty try and yellow card duly followed.
The visitors collected their second try soon afterwards as an attacking lineout in the bottom corner was efficiently driven over – and impressively converted (0-14).
The home scrummage was always under pressure from what is probably the best front row unit in this league. Heathfield normally secured their own ball albeit under considerable pressure and Oli Robertshaw did particularly well in this area by turning scrappy ball into something useful. This was best illustrated now as Robertshaw provided good ball from a scrum which was taken on by Munch May and eventually received by Toby Warren on a lovely line against the grain and his muscular run beat off a couple of tacklers for a fine individual try (5-14). May was also very effective in defence with plenty of important tackles.
On the half hour more Dartfordian pressure into the bottom corner resulted in a yellow card for veteran Kobe Tonkin who was making a much-appreciated reappearance. The visitors eventually collected their third try from the resulting penalty although a team of three officials might well have changed that outcome with a crossing and blatant hands in a ruck. This is no criticism of today’s young referee who had a generally sound and authoritative game.
The half ended with more home pressure into the Dartfordians half that was only relieved by a tough penalty call in a promising situation.
The home lineout had a remarkably effective day considering the lack of regular lineout operators. Both Ben Jones and Harry Vidler secured most of their ball, with due credit to Ollie Stables throwing accuracy, against the visiting lineout which looked very impressive on their own ball. Both Jones and Vidler, along with their back row colleague Tom Pritchard also put in a very hard day’s work in defensive roles. As noted above the Dartfordian scrummage is a young, powerful and effective unit so Ollie Smith will have enjoyed collecting a front row penalty against them. Indeed the referee afterwards picked out Smith as one of the home forwards’ best players.
Early in the second half Heathfield enjoyed a period of pressure down the slope and it was a sign of confidence when they chose to run a penalty in front of the posts with an easy three points available. This came to nothing but it illustrated the sense of belief that was running through the team on a difficult day.
The earlier rain had helped to degrade the surface and conditions became increasingly difficult and limiting for open rugby. Most of the last quarter was spent in the home half but the visitors never achieved any sort of penetration so the home coaches were particularly pleased with the defensive performance on the day. The penalty count was 2-8 against the visitors in this half showing excellent home discipline under pressure.
Dartfordians finally collected their bonus point try when they were awarded a five metre scrummage in debatable circumstances and their undoubted scrummage power resulted in a penalty try. A number of mature observers suggested that forward passes and knock-ons were acceptable in the dead ball area – but perhaps we are relying on the laws from 1890?
Given the relative league positions and the weakened home team this was a satisfactory final score for Heathfield. But it was the performance more than the score that gave particular pleasure with all of the players, especially the pack, showing ‘a bit of dog’ against the undefeated league leaders. For the home backs Tom Glenn did well with limited possession and demonstrated his nose for counter attacking opportunities while Rimmer kicked effectively and had a couple of useful runs.
Good performances in defeat are all very well but league points are critical and survival at this level is by no means secured.
After a week’s rest Heathfield next visit old foes Charlton Park (17 Feb 2.30).