Happy start to New Year for Heathfield with away bonus point win
Heathfield started the new year with an away bonus point win against the bottom team in the league in a patchy performance that illustrated the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Thanet Wanderers 12 Heathfield 32
On a firm surface albeit with claggy mud that inhibited open play, Heathfield started strongly and after three minutes secure set piece possession gave Jamie Walsh a good position from which to chip through for Ollie Brown to collect and, with a juggle and wriggle, touch down in the left hand corner. Ethan Walker converted impressively and generally kicked well all day, only missing once (0-7). The home team immediately responded with a drive into Heathfield territory but their kicker was unable to take advantage of a penalty chance. Instead Walker soon afterwards nailed another three points (0-10).
Heathfield were enjoying majority possession and one rolling maul gained at least twenty five yards before a penalty ruined the opportunity. Nonetheless on the half hour a routine lineout catch and drive was exploited for Ollie Smith to be driven over in the right hand corner and Walker duly added the conversion (0-17).
Thanet showed throughout the game that they have plentiful spirit and their pack always competed well. Some quick ruck ball now gave one of their centres the opportunity to breach the otherwise solid visiting defence and touch down under the posts (7-17).
Chris Brady had been having a solid game so far but a shoulder injury meant that he was replaced by Michael Nise who made numerous carries and thus dragged defenders in. However the home team ended the first half with a period of pressure, relieved at one point by a fine steal at the tackle by Damien Pestell who had an excellent all-round game. Heathfield coach Dave Jones was irritated by his team’s performance in this period as he felt that they were failing to read the game and execute agreed tactics.
The visiting lineout were generally decent although not as accurate as some times this year. David Yates had his usual impressive game with secure lineout work and ball-carrying. Matt Finney and Smith also made useful yards ball-in-hand. Paul Keen at full back was out of his normal position but made a number of useful runs.
The second half started with an emphatic piece of scrummaging by the visitors and a few minutes later this was turned into points as a five metre scrum saw Pestell touch down behind a dominant pack (7-22). While Walker missed the conversion he was successful shortly afterwards with a penalty (7-25).
The visitors were now generally in control and focussed on a try bonus point leading to some white line fever as a couple of chances went begging through poor execution. However with ten minutes remaining replacement Lee Vockins put Walsh in space and he finished pacily under the posts to secure the bonus point (7-32). Vockins is just returning from a long term injury, one of several that have handicapped the team this season
The penalty count against Heathfield was noticeably high in the second half. This helped the home team mount a determined and spirited assault on the green try line which was initially repelled. However more pressure ended with Finney being binned as the latest offender of a string of penalties and Thanet eventually took advantage of the extra man as a fly-hack ahead was bravely recovered and touched down (12-32).
Overall this was a decent performance by Heathfield with which to start the year while clearly identifying areas that can be improved. This Saturday (2.15pm 12 December) Heathfield entertain Aylesford at Cross-In-Hand.