Oaks edge Heath
Heathfield opened their campaign in London SE2 with a narrow loss to Sevenoaks and although collecting a losing bonus point will feel that this was an opportunity missed. Both teams scored one try and kicking decided the result.
Sevenoaks 13 Heathfield 10
Occasional rain squalls made handling difficult all day and both teams take credit for playing as much open rugby as possible.
On an excellent playing surface Heathfield had first use of the wind and some early pressure resulted in a penalty chance for the visitors but the kick was hooked. The home kicker was more accurate a few minutes later (3-0). Sevenoaks were looking threatening at this stage with a series of attacks but the visitors’ defensive organisation proved adequate.
Bryn Jones, making a welcome return after a season out through illness, and Jamie Walsh both made useful positional kicks using the wind. Although another Heathfield penalty chance went wide, on the half hour Joe Woods took over the kicking and duly levelled the scores (3-3). Heathfield now had a period of sustained pressure into the left hand corner and eventually a home second row was carded for repeated offences. Heathfield capitalised efficiently with a lineout catch and drive to provide Richard Cooley with a deserved try, converted impressively by Woods (3-10). Cooley had yet another fine all-round game as he coped with a large young opposite prop but still managed tackles in the loose and carried well on several occasions.
Sevenoaks look to be a young enthusiastic team and they came surging back in the last few minutes of the half to earn an important penalty which left the game well-balanced at half time (6-10).
Neither side had dominance at the scrummage although Heathfield probably shaded that phase winning several opposition balls in messy scrums, with Munch May harassing his opposite number effectively. Hooker Alex Borg made his first appearance at this level and was also noted with some useful work in the loose. Similarly the lineout was level overall. The referee was particularly keen to keep the game moving in this phase and warned both sides about the time taken in forming the lineout and making the necessarily complex call. Heathfield were duly penalised for this at one stage.
The mature Simon Wilson had a magnificently competitive afternoon while David Bayly continued to impress in all parts of the game.
Sevenoaks came out aggressively at the start of the second half but gradually Heathfield began to use their decent share of possession and the home defensive organisation was severely tested with Jones, Walsh and Woods trying to find a way through. This new combination is still developing and will have learnt much from this game. Another newcomer at this level Peter Phair made a good impression with some decent runs.
However Sevenoaks also often used the wind effectively to give them good field position. The home three quarters always looked dangerous individually and the game was effectively decided as a period of scrappy play ended with a decent break through midfield for a home centre to run in under the posts (13-10).
Nonetheless Heathfield worked their way back into the home half although another penalty chance that would have tied the game just dropped short.
Ultimately Sevenoaks took their chance and kicked their goals, thus deserving victory. Results elsewhere suggest that this is going to be another very competitive league and Heathfield will look forward to this side improving as players return from injury and other activities.
On Saturday (3pm 21 Sept) Heathfield entertain Lewes at Cross-In-Hand.