Brighton kicked off on a rapidly chilling but dry day on Heathfields main pitch in what Heathfield knew was going to be a very tough match. Brighton had revenge on their minds from being knocked out of the Colts Cup by Heathfield before Christmas and turned up with a few of their “big guns” not at the previous match.
Heathfield fielded the ball well and battled to try to stem the initial surges from Brighton. Brighton forced turn-overs at the breakdown and used the ball well keeping Heathfield pinned in their half. Even a 22 drop-out from Heathfield failed to stem the pressure from Brighton as they were pinged for “in front of the kicker”.
However, after about 10 mins. Heathfield won some ball and Harry Reilly relieved the pressure by kicking long into the Brighton half. Good following up meant that Heathfield finally got set piece ball in the Brighton half. Brighton infringed at the next breakdown on half-way and a quick tap sent the ball through hands first to the left, then back down the line to the right where Heathfield won a quick ruck. Tom Faraone sent the ball left again from Reilly to Piers O’Conor to Max Ellery who, with the line beckoning, sent one more pass out to Jo Hastings to stroll in to score untouched. Reilly converted taking Heathfield into a slightly underserved lead after their first real foray into Brighton territory.
However, this was just the start of a 20 minute blitz from Heathfield that was to overwhelm the Brighton side.
The restart saw Jamie Wardle just fail to keep the ball in play and Brighton again threatened. However, there was now a measure of belief within the Heathfield ranks and good work at the lineout and breakdown meant that Heathfield began to take control of the match. From a ruck just in the Heathfield half the ball went to Harry Clewley joining the line from the blindside wing. Clewley did have players available but straightened and beat a couple of early tackles. More evasive running meant that he made a further 10m before being brought down. A deft pop kept the attack going and 2 great passes from O’Conor to Reilly to Ellery saw Ellery on the opposite wing this time and, with the pace to round the initial tackle, he fended off the covering fullback to score a great counter-attacking try right by the corner post.
Reilly failed with the conversion but right from the restart, David Bayly fielded the ball and passed inside. The ball then went through 5 sets of hands to end up again in O’Conors hands on the loop. O’Conor beat 2 defenders before being brought down but managed to offload brilliantly to the supporting Gareth Lloyd who still had 15m to make and men to beat. Lloyd skinned the first tackler and took 2 more on his way to score. Reilly again missed with the conversion but at 17 – 0 up and with two scores in as many minutes, Brighton heads were beginning to droop.
Heathfield now had their dander up and everything they did worked well. The offloading game they were playing meant the Brighton defenders were often tackling players after the ball had gone, Heaathfields scrum was dominant, the lineout working well with Henry Ross causing problems and the few breakdowns were controlled well with quick ball being won.
The next score came 6 mins later, perversely, when Brighton were on the attack in the Heathfield 22. A fantastic drive in the ruck from Lewis Golding saw him disrupt the scrum half. Golding stayed on his feet and continued driving and caught the Brighton scrum half in the pass forcing a ragged pass from him. From that one drive from Golding, Brighton were suddenly scrambling and forcing the game and when they tried to feed their winger, Clewley pounced and intercepted. Clewley had about 70m to make but strong running and a couple of great fends saw him dive into the corner to really break the back of the Brighton team. Reilly missed with the conversion but Heathfield had now bagged a bonus point against Brighton, after just 25 minutes of play!
What felt at the time like the coup de grace came again straight from the restart. Ellery fielded, popped inside to Bayly to Alex Borg and then to Reilly and O’Conor. Borg found himself on the end of that sequence after excellently looping and he then drew and fed to the straight running Jack Koops. Koops beat the first up tackle and fed Hastings to run in the remaining 10m to score his 2nd by the corner flag. Reilly again failed with the conversion but Heathfield were now 27 – 0 up and rampant.
Before the end of the half, Brighton again drove hard into the Heathfield half with some great ball carrying from their big number 7 Judd Newell. However, smart work from Heathfield meant that the final 2 minutes of the half were spent on scrummaging and keeping Brighton right were they wanted them!
Half Time: Heathfield lead 27 – 0
After a half like that, it was going to be hard to maintain focus. The coaches stressed that Brighton would come back strongly and keep the ball tight. Numbers had to be used at the breakdown and tackles had to be made!
And so it proved!
From the kickoff Brighton took control. There was also an obvious change from the referee as Heathfield were now being penalized for everything. Backchat from Heathfield didn’t help matters and they very quickly found themselves defending their try-line. Again good ball carrying from Newell saw that pressure eventually turned into points when Brighton crashed over from short range for an unconverted try.
Heathfield suffered again 3 mins later when Toby Warren was yellow carded for slapping the ball backwards whilst in an offside position.
So Heathfield were now down to 14 players, with the referee not happy with them and with Brighton coming back strongly into the game. Game on!
This was actually the spur that Heathfield needed. They spent the next 20 minutes holding off Brighton and playing good controlled rugby in the Brighton half. Again the scrum provided a solid platform on the Heathfield put-in and very scrappy ball with 2 turnovers on the Brighton put-in.
During this time, Heathfield won a penalty 35m out and in front of the posts which Reilly converted taking the score to 30 – 5 and showed Brighton that they were not going to give up easy points.
Brighton did eventually score again when they controlled the ball from the restart and drove hard. Uncharacteristic weak tackling from Heathfield meant that Brighton got a rumble going and again forceful carrying from Newell pinned Heathfield to their try-line. Finally Brighton scored another unconverted try but they were playing 10-man rugby and Heathfield again ran the clock down with some excellent scrummaging.
That was a very good win for Heathfield, gaining a bonus point against strong opponents, and keeps them on-track to contest for a top 2 finish in the league.
Full Time: Heathfield win 30 – 10.
Team: Golding, Borg, Ellery, Ross, Vater, Warren, Wardle, Bayly (C), Faraone, Reilly, Clewley, O’Conor, Lloyd, Hastings, Koops, Davies, Brown, Sills.