Heathfield beat freeze and Park House
In near-freezing conditions Heathfield eventually secured a bonus point win over a doughty but limited visiting Park House team.
Heathfield 34 Park House 0
Early snow had thankfully thawed but temperatures were barely above zero, illustrated by nearby surviving patches of ice. However both teams were keen to play and the general standard of the game was impressive in seriously unpleasant conditions.
Although Heathfield secured possession from the kickoff, Park House had slightly the better of the early exchanges and a long range penalty offered the visitors a chance to open the scoring, but the kick slid wide.
In that sequence of play Fraser Goatcher was hit by the ball at close range from a kick and had to be replaced. Goatcher is normally a prop and the fact that he started in the second row today demonstrates how short Heathfield are in the second row department at present. He was replaced by Jo Rushton making his first appearance for Heathfield at this level. Although preferably a centre, Rushton made a very positive impression with plenty of combative work.
Heathfield now started to find their rhythm and a period of pressure on the visitors’ line soon ended with a penalty, confidently converted by Ken Hellier (3-0). Most of the play was now in the visitors’ half and a well-organised forward drive gave Andy Noble the opportunity to spin off the maul and dive for the line, only to be adjudged to have been held up. Moments later Ollie Brown collected a sublime pass from Bryn Jones and appeared to have touched down in the right hand corner, but the final pass was adjudged forward, a call that surprised many.
Heathfield were clearly in control but one informed observer described them as being slightly frantic as scoring chances were being missed. However another extended period of play now ended with Ethan Walker diving over near the posts for the first try, duly converted by Hellier (10-0).
Walker had an impressive all-round game making plenty of muscular yards but, especially in the first half, he was matched by the evergreen Levi Willis who made his characteristic dynamic impact all across the back row. Forty-something Willis continues to show an attitude and physical approach that shames people half his age.
In the last ten minutes of the half Park House started to win more ball and achieved good field position, mainly through their number eight and captain who made some useful yards. However the home defence proved adequate.
The Heathfield lineout had a generally poor day as the visiting pack managed to disrupt or steal most of the home throw-ins, reflecting the current paucity of home second rows. Scrummaging was messy for most of the day with neither side having control. George Leney had a fine game including some important tackles while Richard Cooley had his usual effective day in the scrummage but was also noted with a couple of useful steals at the breakdown.
The visitors started the second half brightly but gradually Heathfield started to take control. Goatcher returned to the fray and soon made an impact with a useful carry. The outcome of the game was now decided by two Heathfield tries. First Hellier completed an extended period of play as the visitors just ran out of defenders, converting his own try (17-0). Then Hellier was again involved as Heathfield snapped up a dropped visitors’ ball and good interplay between him and Ollie Brown gave Brown a simple finish (22-0).
Nonetheless Park House were securing enough of the ball to put some pressure on the home half. However Harry Reilly at full back made a number of lengthy and precise line kicks to drive the visitors back.
Now one of the highlights of the day for many spectators was a ball-in-hand charge by Goatcher from about forty yards out although he was finally hauled down a few yards out. Prop forwards are frequently accused of inflating their ball-carrying exploits but this run needs no spin. From such a good position Heathfield skipper Ollie Smith was the eventual beneficiary at the end of some decent handling with a try in the left hand corner, thus securing the try bonus point (27-0).
Heathfield completed the scoring as Brown collected his second try on the day, notably assisted by the highly mobile Jesse Muir who had another decent all-round game, again converted by Hellier (34-0).
Heathfield had been disappointed by their performance in the earlier fixture at Park House so they will have felt that this put the record straight. Nonetheless Park House had several periods in the match when they managed to play the game in their way and they remain, as always, a side that Heathfield always find very worthy and awkward opponents.
This Saturday (7 Feb 2.00) Heathfield visit league leaders Horsham and Heathfield will be hoping to improve on the disappointing score in the game against these opponents earlier in the season.