So farewell then to SE2
Heathfield ended their third season in London SE 2 on a positive albeit losing note.
Heathfield 19 Sevenoaks 29
In the first game of the season between these two sides Sevenoaks won a close contest by three points and it illustrates how the season has progressed for the two teams that Heathfield regarded today’s result as positive. Sevenoaks have been scoring tries for fun recently so it is quite possible that looking at the table they may have taken this match too lightly.
Conditions were just about perfect in sunny conditions, the pitch taking a stud and a slight breeze. The home team had the slight slope advantage in the first half. The early exchanges suggested that the Sevenoaks scrum would be a significant force while the home side won a number of potentially crucial turnovers at the breakdown, with Tom Pritchard often being involved. The visitors’ outside centre looked threatening all game but Win Barrett will have enjoyed ripping the ball off him in an early thrust and the home defence generally contained this considerable force.
After a missed penalty chance, Heathfield put together a sequence of attacks down the left hand side and then switched play right for Kobe Tonkin to muscle his way over for a well-earned try, safely converted by Harry Reilly (0-7). A few minutes later Reilly narrowly missed another penalty chance from the halfway line.
Sevenoaks naturally responded and had a period of pressure. Their rolling maul looked well drilled although the home side generally contained the threat. However a penalty gave the visitors good position on the five metre line and from a lineout they eventually drove over, impressively converted (7-7).
Sam Goatcher had a nice run following up a kick but the bounce didn’t work for him while Alex Borg continued to make a very positive impression in all aspects.
This was a period when Heathfield could have taken control as they were competing well in all phases but the poor season has resulted in a lack of confidence across the side. The first half ended with Heathfield having plenty of pressure, especially in the bottom right hand corner, but faulty execution combined with fine defence allowed no further scoring.
The Sevenoaks scrummage pressure meant that Bruce Pestell had a difficult day securing the ball at the base of the scrum but for the second week running he had an impressive game. He will continue to be a combative force at this level for as long as he wants to. The lineout was generally unsatisfactory for both sides although David Yates secured some decent ball.
The game was effectively decided in a short period around 60 minutes. After an early visitors’ penalty (7-10) Sevenoaks pressure resulted in Pritchard being binned for doing what a good flanker does. Sevenoaks duly took advantage with a well taken try and their kicker secured the extra points (7-17). From the kickoff Pestell was rightly binned for taking out the receiving player in the air although a visiting second row received a similar sanction for his inappropriate verbal assistance to the referee at this point.
Sevenoaks now quickly scored two tries that decided the game, one converted (7-29) as their three quarters illustrated why they have collected so many points this year.
However the last few minutes were a testament to the spirit of home team as they scored two tries through quick ruck ball and good hands with Charlie Smith touching both down, at least one of them needing plenty of skill to beat several opponents (19-29). In this period it was good to see Henry Ross making a good impression in a cameo appearance on his return from his travels.
Heathfield will sadly be without Jamie Walsh next season as he returns down under. He came here as a scrum half and it is testament to his strengths as a player and a person that he has played almost all of the time in other positions with great commitment and skill. The team has had a difficult season but he has led with determined honesty that has earned much respect.
Heathfield will look forward to next season in London SE3 with a team that will be going through a transition period as several current important individuals retire or look to more social, less-intensive rugby. However the club is committed to keeping the talent emerging from the junior system involved at the senior level. Given the size of community on which the club is based, Heathfield is doing well just to be in London SE3 (RFU level 8) and the fact that it has been at level 7 for three years is a testament to the individuals, management and especially coaches concerned.