Heathfield bonus win in North Kent
Heathfield finally secured a five try bonus point away win against a committed home side who contributed fully to an entertaining contest.
The firm wind slanting across the pitch with the slope meant that conditions would have a distinct impact on the game. Heathfield had the benefit of the breeze initially although some observers felt that they did not use it enough.
Early Heathfield pressure led to one opportunity when good ruck ball was exploited by Bryn Jones, carried on by Oli Robertshaw but the final and almost inevitable scoring pass to Ollie Brown at pace did not stick.
The visitors continued to have most of the play at this stage and one crucial moment now arrived. In broken play near the home try line the Anchorian loose head picked up Munch May, who didn’t have the ball, and from near shoulder level took him to ground none too gently. This was adjudged to be worthy of a yellow card, generously in the view of many visiting supporters, who were also left bemused when play was restarted with a penalty to the home team.
Nonetheless Heathfield soon scored when a kick out of defence was returned by Rob Fenner, carried on by Brown and Ken Hellier was in support to claim the points (0-5).
The end of the first quarter was marked by a deserved try for Brown after a turnover by Jesse Muir (0-10).
Gillingham now started to work their way into the visitors’ half, mainly through good close quarter forward work, leading to two penalty chances but they were unable to benefit on a tricky kicking day.
The third Heathfield try was an almost identical copy of the second as another Muir turnover and good handling gave Brown his second try on the day, converted by Harry Reilly (0-17). This was the first successful conversion by Heathfield after eight previous failures over three games. Brown clearly had the edge over his opponents but Heathfield were unable to manufacture any more opportunities for him.
As half-time approached Heathfield continued to have the better of affairs but were unable to capitalise on the score sheet. Ethan Walker was noted with one useful turnover in the tackle area. The Heathfield scrum was also having a good day with one notable 15 metre drive. The Gillingham hooker earned many plaudits when he immediately returned to the next scrummage after seeming to have been painfully marmalised in the previous encounter.
That Heathfield were leading 0-17 at half time should be evaluated in the light of the penalty count in the half of one against Gillingham and nine against Heathfield. Given the wind lineouts were always difficult but Heathfield were generally secure on their own ball and Andy Noble successfully disrupted some of the home front ball.
Heathfield started the second half brightly with Noble making one major break down the middle but support did not arrive in time.
Another key moment now arrived as a Heathfield penalty line kick just failed to find touch and a retaliatory kick took play to the visitors’ 5 metre line. Gillingham have a well-organised pack and they duly exploited this opportunity for a flanker to plunge over to open their scoring. The conversion was adjudged successful, to the surprise of some (7-17). Given that Heathfield had managed to lose a game from 15-0 up the previous week, some visiting supporters were becoming concerned. Indeed Gillingham now had periods of pressure and another score would have set the green alarm bells ringing. The home pack play a speedy, scrambling game that can disrupt opponents.
Heathfield had a period of possession and position in the home right hand corner with two lineouts and a 5 metre attacking scrummage just being contained by the defence. However just on the half hour Heathfield collected the bonus point try as their scrummage drove over for Noble to claim the touchdown (7-22).
Just when it looked as though Heathfield had the game secure a loose pass soon after the restart gave an easy interception and the home team duly collected a simple seven points (14-22).
However a few minutes later another solid Heathfield scrum provided decent possession in the home half and Walker capped an excellent all-round game with a solo run into the right hand corner beating off several tackles (14-27).
Heathfield will be pleased with the result although they will be slightly disappointed with the performance. Gillingham are engaged in a tussle to avoid relegation and they probably deserved a losing bonus point today, their pack in particular with some veteran members taking much credit.
After the Easter weekend off Heathfield complete the season with the home game against Old Dunstonians (11 April 3pm). This game will decide third place in the London SE3 League table with no relevance to promotion for either side. Hopefully it will provide a worthy finale to a very enjoyable season: it will also be Heathfield coach Dave Jones’ last game in charge as he steps down from that role after eleven generally successful years.