Gillingham Anchorians 42 Heatfield 36
Heathfield just lost this entertaining SE3 League game, both sides scoring six tries, with the home side getting plenty of credit for recovering from 17 points down in the first fifteen minutes.
On a hard pitch with a reasonable covering of dry grass Heathfield played up the slight slope and into the breeze although in the event neither side made especially good use of the conditions.
Anchorians were handicapped early by an injury to their fly half although he later returned. By then Heathfield had collected three tries through some pleasing back play. First a lineout in the home half was moved wide and Joe McIntyre eventually finished well in the right hand corner – a final tackle was adjudged high and his opposite number was duly binned. Lucas Cumng converted impressively although he missed the next conversion when Mcintyre again worked his way over in the same corner. The third came after Fraser Goatcher had a decent rumble near the half way line and then good hands found Jack Morgan for his first try for Heathfield.
Many sides would have crumpled in this situation but Anchorians showed great spirit by refusing to buckle and opened their scoring by moving the ball wide from a set scrum for a fine converted try. They continued to press and secured two kickable penalties with one being successful (10-17).
Just before half time Anchorians scored probably the most significant try of the day when their tight head was making a decent carry, then chipped ahead (that should have been a fine from the front row union later) and one of their centres had the pace to collect a fortunate bounce. The easy conversion levelled the scores and meant that the home side went into the interval level and with the momentum (17-17).
The scrummage was generally level. Initially the home side looked to be putting some pressure on which Heathfield just contained but as the game went on this phase was even with the visitors starting to have a slight edge later on. In this respect Jack Ruddock gets particular praise for his first appearance at this level against a much older front row but all the front row did well on the day. According to the physio Dan Bird had a tight gluteous but he lasted the full eighty and I didn’t want to enquire further.
Heathfield started the second period brightly with some good direct running including a lovely line taken by Tom Cornwell for the second week running. Tom Tingley eventually muscled his way over, again converted by Cuming (17-24).
Anchorians had clearly learnt from the first period – their backs started drifting more in defence to counter the Heathnfield threat out wide – and they started trying to use the driving maul from lineouts.
Charlie Butler went close in the left hand corner although his failure to touch down was the subject of some confused debate afterwards. However the rest of the game was heavily influenced by Heathfield being repeatedly penalised, often for offside, with skipper Gus Taylor being especially picked out as a repeat offender. There is a fine line for a back row player around the breakdown and once the referee takes a view it can be difficult to reverse that opinion. Taylor did receive a final team warning after successive penalties but in the event Munch May was the recipient of a yellow card after the next adjudged penalty.
Anchorians duly took advantage with a try under the posts from short range although their kicker somehow found a post to avoid the conversion, but this gave them the lead albeit by one point (25-24).
The rest of the game was somewhat frantic and disjointed as the heat and hard ground took their toll leading to errors and missed tackles. Anchorians picked up the next try (converted this time albeit off a post) but Heathfield soon replied through debutant Chester Stanyon at the end of some good handling. This meant that the home side had a one point advantage at 32-31 and any result was possible.
Anchorians did miss a kickable penalty but then scored two tries through strong running in midfield as the hard ground and heat took their toll on tacklers (42-31).
Nonetheless Heathfield surged back and in the dying minutes had a good position in the left hand corner. Initially this looked to have been wasted as an attacking lineout went wrong but eventually Tingley muscled his way over for his second try on the day to secure a losing bonus point for the visitors.
In spite of the result overall this was a better performance from Heathfield after last week and results elsewhere suggest that a competitive and enjoyable season lies ahead.
Even without his try Stanyon was mentioned very positively for his efforts in all phases including some excellent defensive work. Cuming made some important last ditch tackles and generally looked dangerous although possibly trying to do too much on his own but this is a back division still getting to know each other. Jeydon Rainbow also came in for some very positive comments from Head Coach Dave Cook.
In spite of two opening defeats the team was in good heart on the way home and amongst the usual entertainments it was good to hear a spirited Heathfield Ranger led by Munch.
Next Saturday Heathfield entertain Old Williamsonians (Old Willies to their friends) at Cross In Hand (28 Sep 3.00).