Rare bonus point away win in Kent
By Philip Bell
Conversions make the difference
Maidstone 25 Heathfield 27
Heathfield were just the winners at Maidstone as both sides scored four tries and one penalty but the visitors managed one more conversion to decide the outcome. Heathfield has a poor recent away record, especially in Kent, so this is a welcome and important result.
Conditions were excellent with a good surface on a dry day and Maidstone had first use of the slight slope and breeze.
The game took some time to settle down but Heathfield generally had the better of the opening phases in open play with some good ball-carrying in the backs, as was to become a feature of the game. However the visitors handicapped themselves as two penalties failed to find touch into the top corner allowing the home side to counter.
As usual this season the Heathfield scrummage was under pressure from the sizeable home front row and Oli Robertshaw had another excellent day tidying up and generally securing very difficult ball at the base of a retreating scrum.
The first score only arrived at the end of the first quarter when Lucas Cuming slotted a straightforward penalty chance only for Maidstone to reply in similar fashion shortly afterwards.
Maidstone supporters were now heard bemoaning the failure of their team to exploit the conditions by putting the ball into the bottom corner. When they now finally did this a try duly arrived as a flanker dived through a hole in a lineout and collected a decent individual score.
Heathfield clearly felt that they had plenty to offer in this contest and their forwards in particular now took the game into the right hand corner for Robertshaw to dive through the defence to keep the scores level (8-8).
The injury count was starting to affect both teams with Leon Collen having to retire briefly allowing Dan Jones to come onto the wing while the home no 8, one of their important players, had to retire briefly with a blood injury.
Maidstone finished the half strongly with some decent handling taking them into the right hand corner where they exploited an attacking scrummage for a routine pushover try, duly converted for a half time score of 15-8.
However Heathfield, after playing the first half up the slope and into the breeze, were distinctly optimistic of turning the score line around. While recognising that their scrummage was under pressure and their lineout was struggling to compensate for the absence of some key players, the visitors’ back division was having an excellent day with fly half Toby Harrison and inside centre Sam Goatcher combining well to create plenty of space and opportunities out wide. Alex Langdon in particular was receiving some useful ball and it took some brave last ditch tackles by the home full back to deny him any score. Also Cuming was often joining the line to create more space and he had an excellent all round game which included some good catches of high balls.
During the second half the mature home front row started to tire and the visiting scrummage, with Reece Webb replacing Richard Poole, achieved more secure possession from that phase. Webb was picked out afterwards for particular praise for his contribution.
Heathfield had the first score in the second half as a lineout in the bottom corner led to an attempted clearance kick by the home scrum half which Heathfield skipper Gus Taylor charged down and then retrieved to barge over for the try.
Maidstone now had probably their most coherent passage of play as they worked the phases, chiefly through their forwards, and increasingly pressed into the visitors’ half. Heathfield just contained an ominous situation under their posts but could not prevent a subsequent score in the right hand corner (20-13).
However this was almost immediately answered with probably Heathfield’s best try of the day as pressure into the bottom corner was followed by good hands including Munch May, Robertshaw and Taylor moving the ball to Tom Tingley who galloped over, with the conversion levelling the score (20-20).
The match-winning try followed a few minutes later in similar fashion as a run by Langdon was just contained but the recycled ball was moved wide right for Tingley to collect his second well-deserved try on the day. Both his tries were converted and those kicks may well have been the decisive factor on the day (20-27).
Maidstone were far from defeated and had another period of pressure under the visitors’ posts from which they collected another try in the right hand corner but the missed conversion left Heathfield in the lead and they were able to play out the last few minutes in the home half to secure an important result.
One quirk on the day was that all four Heathfield tries were scored by forwards although it was the back division which had looked to have a distinct edge over their opposite numbers. This reflects the 15 man rugby that Heathfield look to play.
Langdon Wolsey-Cooper was afterwards named as man of the match for his contribution as he had probably his best game yet at this level with plenty of useful work in defence and ball-in-hand. As well as those already mentioned Jack Koops, Matt Ryan off the bench and the combative May were also mentioned in despatches.
But Head Coach Dave Cook was pleased with the whole team performance in which everyone contributed and the valuable league points lift Heathfield off the bottom of the table albeit still firmly in relegation territory.
Next week Heathfield entertain Chichester II in a Sussex Bob Rogers Cup match (19 Jan 13.45) and then return to league duty the following week when league leaders Beckenham come calling.