Heathfield 6 Aylesford Bulls 5
Heathfield just edged past Aylesford in a low-scoring game between the two teams propping up the league table but actually the weather was the winner. Rain and wind made open rugby very difficult and there were multiple handling errors by both sides. In spite of this the pitch remained playable and did not cut up noticeably as drainage work two years ago paid dividends. This is just part of the legacy of recently deceased Heathfield Chairman Dave Rhodes. Many had attended his funeral the previous day and both teams and supporters marked his passing with a minute’s applause before the game.
Aylesford had first use of the breeze and driven rain down the pitch and ominously for the home side after an exchange of kicks the visitors had a scrum 5 metres from the home try line and their number 8 made no mistake in charging over for a try which, crucially, went unconverted.
Heathfield replied with some sensible rugby and assisted by a couple of penalties took the game into the left hand corner but the lineout was lost and Aylesford were able to clear their lines. It was noticeable that both sides struggled with lineouts in the first half and there were hardly more than two or three clean wins in that phase before half time.
When possession allowed Heathfield did try to play some good rugby ball in hand, working it wide on several occasions often involving Lucas Cuming and with Ethan Walker making much useful ground with a couple of well-angled runs. Nick Cook now replaced Tom Tingley and Cook made a considerable impact by providing that extra physicality needed in the game against bulkier opposition.
As dictated by conditions both sides were kicking a good deal and the visitors did establish a good position in the bottom corner but dogged home defence ended the threat. The visitors were also now handicapped by their number 8 needing to be replaced for an HIA although he later returned.
With five minutes left in the half Cuming opened Heathfield’s account with a penalty for some loose footwork. Then in the last moments of the half Aylesford made one last effort to exploit the conditions and they hammered away in the left hand corner before moving the ball wide but with a three on one overlap on the right hand side the scoring pass was dropped.
The scrummage was one area where the visitors initially had an advantage but gradually this was nullified and by the time Butch Poole replaced Shrek Watkins that phase was stabilised. Nonetheless Oli Robertshaw and Munch May had a difficult but effective day at the base of the scrum tidying up messy ball under pressure. Ed Koops made numerous yards ball in hand alongside captain Gus Taylor who had another committed and productive day.
In the second half Heathfield threw almost exclusively to Henry Ross in the lineout and this provided some secure possession. Ross was having only his second game back from injury and had a fine all round game.
Early in the second half Heathfield had a period of consistent pressure into the visitors’ half and a chip through by fly half Toby Harrison under the Aylesford posts was only just contained by the defence. However the referee called play back for a penalty and Cuming made no mistake with his kick, thereby completed the scoring on the day.
Harrison was afterwards picked out for particular praise as he bravely dealt with some very heavy traffic in defence and also kicked very effectively out of hand along with keeping his back line moving more than might be expected in the conditions.
Aylesford were showing plenty of determination and worked their way into the home corner under the balcony but the Heathfield scrum was able to provide secure ball for the clearance. Most of the game was now in the visitors’ half and a home score was starting to look more likely. However Aylesford managed an interception near their own 22 and probably should have scored at the other end but they were just thwarted by some energetic cover including one key tackle by Jack Koops.
As the game entered the last quarter increasing home pressure and a rising penalty count against the visitors led to a yellow for an Aylesford second row. However Heathfield were unable to exploit the extra man as the visitors showed no lack of spirit and commitment.
The referee afterwards commented that he felt the key difference between the sides was Heathfield’s discipline, especially in the second half when the penalty count was 4-10 against the visitors thus allowing Heathfield to keep the game in the visitors’ half for long periods.
This was scarcely a game to cause concern for other teams in this league but Heathfield will go into the second half of the league program with a boost to their confidence.
Next week Heathfield visit Haywards Heath (15 Dec 14.00) who they defeated near the start of the league program and who will doubtless be intent on revenge.