2018 started off in curious fashion for Heath who contrived to almost lose a game that they were winning comfortably on the hour mark. With both the 1st XV and the RAMs forced to play their respective home fixtures at Brighton RFC due to a waterlogged Whitemans Green, pre-match preparation was a little different from usual as Heath welcomed Deal & Betteshanger from the furthest reaches of Kent.
Heath were looking for revenge after losing a close game in controversial circumstances against the visitors earlier in the season and they looked to be fully focussed as they put the visitors under huge amounts of pressure from the first whistle. Wave after wave of Heath attacks were repelled by Deal who were unable to exit their own 22, notwithstanding their sterling defensive effort. Whilst Heath played all the rugby, little mistakes and wrong options prevented them from taking full advantage of all their possession and territory.
Despite their dominance Heath lost both props Jack Bull and Greg Palmer to injury in quick succession, meaning Heath went from having a set piece weapon upon which to build attacking opportunities, to uncontested scrums. Heath finally managed to break the deadlock on 28 minutes when following a scrum the ball was moved wide where Jamie Diggle cut in at pace to beat his man for the score and 5-0 to Heath. The conversion was missed but just before halftime a penalty was kicked to the corner by Heath and secured at the lineout, only for a Deal player to illegally hack the ball through the ruck. The resulting penalty was quickly taken by number 8 Ed Bowden who crashed over for a try and a 10-0 scoreline.
After the break Heath looked to continue where they left off against a side who had only made it out of their own half on one occasion in the first forty minutes. Heath continued to impose their superiority and Deal continued to try and hold back the waves of red and black attackers. With just over 10 minutes of the second half gone another penalty against Deal coupled with a yellow card for persistent infringement provided Heath with a lineout close to the opposition line. The ball was set from the lineout and as Heath mauled towards the line, backrow Max Drage peeled off to crash over. Peter Kerins converted taking the score to 17-0.
Heath regained possession at the restart and a scything run from Robbie Fotheringham took play back into the Deal 22 on the wide left. Heath were quickly to the breakdown and, spotting the space created by the Deal team being sucked in to defend the short side, spun the ball back wide right where Ed Bowden opened his long stride and sped into the corner for his second try of the afternoon, the bonus point score and a 22-0 lead. Game apparently over – or so everyone but Deal thought.
Heath were quickly on the attack again but poor decision making and a bit of white line fever meant they were unable to add to the score. Deal capitalised on the more open nature of the game and when their number 10 jinked through a series of missed tackles it appeared to be no more than a consolation try with 15 minutes remaining. However Heath indiscipline leading to two consecutive, although fortunately not simultaneous, yellow cards gave the visitors even more hope. Hope became reality when they smashed their way through further tackles for a converted score to claw the score back to 22-12 leaving the visitors trying to sniff out a losing bonus point with around 5 minutes remaining. Heath had lost their shape and concentration and it wasn’t a huge surprise when Deal took the ball through phases and drove over to score again. The conversion was good and with 3 minutes to play Deal were within a penalty of tying the game at 22-19.
Further Deal pressure took them up to the Heath 22 where on the last play of the game they won a penalty in front of the posts. With the wind firmly in their sails Deal turned down the kick at goal and took a scrum from which they crashed through phases. Last ditch tackles from full back Sam Galbraith and hooker Alex Wolfe meant that even though Deal reached the Heath line the ball was knocked on and the final whistle was blown.
Coach Matt Hawkes, whilst pleased with the bonus point score that kept Heath in fourth place in the league, felt that his players had been a bit ring rusty after the Christmas break, particularly as they had been unable to train on grass due to the weather. Even so if Heath are to remain competitive for the remainder of the season they must be more clinical when dominating possession and territory for three quarters of a game and a lot of work will be needed before next week’s match away against old rivals Hove.
Heath RAMs played Hastings & Bexhill 2 on the adjoining pitch at Waterhall and ran out 32-17 winners in a highly entertaining and fast paced match.
Heath 1st XV squad: Jack Bull (Nick Miller), Alex Wolfe, Greg Palmer (Darren Lockyer), Steve Doku, Sam Beckett, Max Drage, Wilf Bridges, Ed Bowden, George Davies, Peter Kerins (capt), Jamie Diggle (Roscoe Atkins), Robbie Fotheringham, Jack Lucas, Bobby Conroy-Smith, Sam Galbraith.
Updated 11:45 - 16 Jan 2018 by Tracey Spuyman