Pulborough 14 Heathfield 26
Heathfield secured their future in London South East 2 with a try bonus point away victory against a game but out-powered Pulborough side. Unusually for Heathfield the pack was the same as for the previous game but as has been usual this season the back division was completely revamped with four changes.
In spite of earlier rain, conditions were excellent and a large VP lunch ensured a good crowd for the game. Heathfield chose to play up the slight slope and into the light breeze.
Pulborough knew that to have any chance of survival in the league they needed a result so it was no surprise when they showed ambition from the start. An early run back from a visitors’ kick out of defence gave them good field position and a penalty chance soon arrived although the kick went wide. However from the first scrum it was apparent that Heathfield had a clear edge in that phase so they had a solid base on which to build. Indeed the first score came from a dominant Heathfield scrum with the ball then carried on several times before Munch May claimed the score in a heap of bodies. After some confusion the referee decided that the conversion had failed as the ball drifted across the posts – and a few minutes later a Heathfield penalty chance was missed into the strengthening breeze.
However Heathfield now scored a clinically efficient try as more good scrum possession allowed Harry Reilly moving to the blindside to find Ben Boorman who scampered over near the right hand corner, duly converted by Reilly (0-12).
Shrek Watkins replaced Fraser Goatcher on the half hour but this made no difference to the dominance that Heathfield had in the scrummage where Ollie Smith had an especially effective day while hooker Ollie Stables also made some useful carries.
Any thoughts that this would become one-sided were swiftly blown away as Pulborough now exploited a penalty through several phases and worked their way over for a deserved try (7-12).
Heathfield skipper Haidar Maliki was slightly surprised to be warned that his side were now in danger of a yellow card since the penalty count at that point was eight to two against the home team.
The half finished with a big run by Boorman from his own half which was just snuffed out in the left hand corner.
Having done the hard work up the slope and into wind Heathfield would have been hopeful of collecting due reward. First phase possession was secure with a dominant scrum and Maliki and Henry Ross generally taking their own ball in the lineout.
However an early Heathfield penalty again drifted wide and Pulborough were fighting back so the game was definitely in the balance. A penalty gave the home side a good attacking position in the visitors’ 22 but they spilt the ball and May dived through a messy situation to gain a good fifty yards.
The game was effectively decided in the next five minutes as Ed Koops scored two tries, deserved reward for his big-hearted efforts this season. First Marcus Hendry, making a welcome return from Uni, made good ground and successive phases allowed Koops to work his way over. Then an attacking lineout was driven on and again Koops emerged from a heap of bodies to claim the try bonus point (7-26). In between these tries many people enjoyed the moment when Watkins extracted the ball from a tackle situation and found himself in the clear some fifty metres out. Sensibly he decided that this was a bit far for a try scoring opportunity and allowed the cover to find him.
At this point Heathfield could have run away with the game. That they did not do so was probably down to two factors. First, the visiting backs had plenty of good opportunities but the lack of playing or training time together often showed up as moves broke down. Secondly Pulborough are a decent and proud side who now played some of their best rugby. Indeed they scored a remarkable try when their scrum was driven back some fifteen metres but somehow their number eight secured the ball which was worked to their left wing still in his own half but who finally touched down under the visitors’ posts (14-26).
The last few minutes saw the welcome return to action of Sam Goatcher from a long term injury and who thus became the 53rd person to play for Heathfield 1st team this year. The result means that Heathfield can enjoy the last four games without the threat of relegation.
Next week Heathfield visit Horsham in a fixture rearranged after the recent wintry weather (17 March 3.00pm).
Quilter Kids First Champions winner – November: Hinckley RFC