Wanderers pack eventually overpower Heathfield
By Philip Bell
Committed and game home team show skill in vain against larger visitors
Heathfield 15 Thanet Wanderers 25
Thanet were the deserving winners of this entertaining match that probably secured their place in SE2 for another year. Conditions were good with a firm but slightly tacky pitch and only a light breeze. There was a decent crowd with the visitors having plentiful travelling support.
Early impressions were that the visitors were a big side, across the park, and that the home side was very much up for the contest. An early Thanet lineout went wrong and Gus Taylor duly exploited the opportunity, taken on by Munch May
, and when the move stuttered Nick Cook
made the first of his major contributions on the day by bursting through several tackles from twenty yards out and claimed a fine individual try.
Thanet replied ten minutes later when, either intercepting or picking up a dropped pass, their right wing was able to work his way into the top corner to level the score.
The end of the first quarter saw a fine home try as first Max Redman
made good ground down the right flank and then ball was moved wide left, again involving Cook, and Leon Collen
muscled his way over near the left hand corner. Lucas Cuming
With hindsight, this was the period when Heathfield should have made some decisive scores. Good tactical kicking by Toby Harrison
gave good field position and the home pack was providing adequate possession with skipper Taylor as usual well to the fore in carrying . One move into the left hand corner on the half hour involving Cook and Taylor ended with a penalty opportunity but the kick drifted wide.
Then shortly before half time Thanet turned over a home scrummage and good hands saw their left winger work his way over for an important score which was converted to level the score at 12-12.
At the very end of the half a long range Heathfield penalty came back off the crossbar and Cook arrived to retrieve the ball but some desperate defence by the visitors just denied him a score and the half time whistle went.
Given the size of the visiting pack, the home scrummage was often under some pressure although at this stage the ball was mostly secured. Neither side dominated the lineout. Julian Porter
made his now customary appearance when Richard Poole
had to retire for a while: the scrum doesn’t move much when Porter is involved.
Early in the second half a couple of penalties gave Thanet decent field position on the left hand side and it was no surprise when they duly rumbled over from a lineout catch and drive. They have a large and well drilled forward unit.
However Heathfield were very much in the game with some strong carries by Fraser Goatcher
and, inevitably Cook, which meant that this was now an excellent contest. Heathfield built a threatening position in front of the visitors’ posts and were awarded a penalty – the Thanet scrum half took exception to the way in which May was trying to grab the ball for a quick tap and charged in, which earnt him a yellow. Unfortunately Cook was knocked over in the incident and had to retire for a while. The resulting penalty closed the score to 15-17 but a few minutes later a Thanet penalty restored the gap to five points. Dan Jones
, now on for Alex Langdon
, made some useful contributions, often under pressure.
May was having a characteristically busy day keeping his back line moving and making some useful tackles. Cuming had a busy day in attack and defence with some typically brave tackles against big men. Tom Tingly made several promising runs but was unable to add to his recent try scoring spree.
Heathfield were playing some attractive rugby when they did have possession but gradually the visitors’ power and size took its toll. Much of the last quarter was played in the bottom corner of the pitch as the visiting scrummage became an increasingly dominant force. They duly collected their bonus point try off the back of a scrum in that corner which effectively finished the contest. Heathfield were having to play from deep with minimal possession and rarely reached the visitors’ 22.
Afterwards Head Coach Dave Cook was full of praise for the whole team who showed great attitude and arguably greater skill against yet another larger and more powerful side. This result may well be a key moment in the relegation struggle but heads are not dropping yet.
After a week off to enjoy the occasion at Cardiff next Saturday and what promises to be one of the matches of the season on the Sunday when Heathfield Ladies entertain Cranbrook Ladies (24 Feb 2.30) to decide the outcome of their league, Heathfield visit high-flying Charlton Park (2 Mar 3.00).