Greenies overcome chill wind and Bulls
Heathfield secured a hard-fought home win in one of their best performances of the season in artic conditions.
Heathfield 15 Aylesford 6
The club are developing a squad of players who are comfortable at this level and there is some justified confidence about the future.
The weather was poor with a steady easterly breeze bringing occasional wintry showers but the Cypress field again provided a quality playing surface. In the conditions a high error count was inevitable and sympathetic refereeing was needed to allow much continuity. Nonetheless to their credit both teams tried to play as much rugby as possible but unsurprisingly the game was decided by the boot and in this respect Heathfield had a trump card as Ethan Walker again delivered an immaculate kicking performance.
The first Aylesford possession was duly kicked a very decent distance with the wind by their fly-half to give the visitors an excellent attacking position. However thereafter they may have failed to utilise the wind enough while it was in their favour. That initial good position for the visitors was contained by a resolute home defence that was one of the features of the game. Heathfield now worked their way back upfield as it became apparent that these were two well-matched sides. At this stage Aylesford looked especially threatening with their well drilled forward inter-passing.
Just before the end of the first quarter Aylesford took the lead with a penalty but this was cancelled out five minutes later by a home penalty by Walker (3-3). Heathfield now produced one of the few three-quarter moves on the day with Ollie Brown and Joe Woods combining to make good ground into the right hand corner. This was followed by a forward drive that was over the line but the referee was unable to award the try that some of those involved claimed had been scored.
Heathfield took the lead with five minutes remaining in the half with another Walker penalty although play was moving all over the pitch (6-3). The Heathfield pack showed a real appetite for the ball throughout the game and probably shaded the 50-50 contests.
The visiting scrummage had an initial edge but this was clearly reversed as the game went on. In the clubhouse afterwards a number of theories were provided to explain this without anyone being convinced. Conditions made the lineout difficult with cold hands and the breeze – neither team had control as the normally dominant Heathfield lineout had their most challenging day this season.
At half time Michael Nise replaced Damien Pestell signalling an adjustment in Heathfield tactics. Nise made a number of a powerful direct runs that normally required several tacklers. This was combined with some well-judged kicking out of hand by Jamie Walsh who now worked the angles and wind to make useful ground.
After ten minutes in the second half Heathfield extended their lead through another Walker penalty (9-3). The game was very much in the balance and Aylesford had several periods of pressure. A late tackle on Walsh resulted in a yellow for the visiting full-back. This allowed Walker to extend the home lead but it was almost immediately cancelled out by another Aylesford penalty (12-6). The decisive score followed a few minutes later as a good Heathfield position in the right hand corner produced good ball for Walsh to drop a goal (15-6). It has to be said that he did not strike the ball cleanly and it barely appeared to reach the height of the crossbar at any time before bouncing on it – but that may just have helped Heathfield’s belief that it was to be their day.
Charlie Smith was replaced by Sam Thewlis making a welcome return to the first team and as usual Lee Vockins replaced Munch May for a last quarter that was characterised by Aylesford determination to go for a try in spite of repeated penalty opportunities. Joe Woods and Richard Cooley received yellow cards at different points in this period as the visitors pressed for some compensation but the home defensive organisation again proved adequate. Nonetheless the penalty count against Heathfield remains a cause for concern for the coaching team.
This was the fourth time that Heathfield have played Aylesford but it was the first time that the Sussex team have been successful. Heathfield are playing with some justified belief and momentum at the moment so they view the rest of the season with confidence.
This Saturday (19 Jan 2.15) Heathfield entertain Deal and Betteshanger with whom there have been some memorable encounters in the last two years.