HEATH SQUEEZE OUT KEY BONUS POINT WIN AT SUTTON
Heath's 4 try bonus and Portsmouth's bonus-less win at Thanet, secured Heath's London 1 South place for next season with one game remaining.
Heath went into this game as favourites against Sutton & Epsom – old rivals at higher levels, but now the division’s bottom side and already relegated - looking for a bonus point win for safety. The target was achieved by the final whistle and news of Portsmouth’s win without a bonus point at Thanet Wanderers meant Heath’s position in London 2 South was secure.
Heath were the dominant side throughout the game, but left it late. They pressurised the Sutton scrum, with the front row of Chris Turner, Huw Jenkins and Adam Hopcroft turning over much of the opposition put-in as they put their opponents to the sword. Heath’s own line out ball was secure, but static, and they disrupted the Sutton line out, though failing to halt a few drives, fortunately from deep positions. From this tight base the back row – Josh Salisbury, Steve May and Al Harle - were quick to the breakdown, though hampered by first half injuries. The backs always threatened, with Joe Hoare prominent, but a combination of elementary errors including 12 penalties against Heath in the first twenty minutes, uncertain judgement and resolute Sutton defence saw position all too often lost.
Although Sutton rarely ventured outside their ten metre line, they took the lead in the third minute with a well-struck penalty from outside half Frankie Murray. Heath immediately struck back with a long forward drive and an inside pass from Hopcroft to Turner whose celebrations were cut short as the referee judged the pass forward. Heath kept battering away, but too many mistakes let Sutton off the hook. Despite this, with Sutton number 8 Matt Whittaker in the bin, Heath appeared to score three times in five minutes through Sam Hill, Turner and Jenkins but on each occasion the referee ruled that the ball was held up. Not until yet another 5 metre scrum on 30 minutes did Rob Jackson cut through and Heath take a 3-5 lead. The difficult conversion chance hit the post. Heath continued to press, with Will Murrills just stripped of the ball in the act of scoring, but had to be content with an unchanged scoreline as they entered the half time huddle.
With Sam Drage replacing the injured May and Matt Walsh entering the fray for Nick Francis early in the second half Heath maintained their pressure. A little too much individualism all too often scuppered their chances delaying the second score until the sixtieth minute when Harle picked up from an advancing five metre scrum – one of many – to crash over. Jackson added the points and Heath were 3-12 up. Ten minutes later and it was Sam Drage, driven over by Hopcroft, who touched down for Heath’s third. Another heel against the head in injury time and a quick transfer to the ever-alert Atkins though Harle, Walsh and Marc Cashman, and Heath were 3-22 ahead, a bonus point in hand and two further points from Jackson’s conversion.
In last play of ten minutes of injury time, Sutton came back for a consolation try, a conversion and a 10-24 final scoreline that certainly failed to reflect Heath’s dominance in territory and possession. In their final game of a roller-coaster season – at home to fourth-placed Basingstoke next Saturday KO 3.00 p.m. – they’ll need to find the finishing power that has eluded them all too often in recent games.
Chris Turner, Huw Jenkins (capt), Adam Hopcroft, Sam Hill, Dan Shotton, Al Harle, Josh Salisbury, Steve May (Sam Drage, 40), Nick Francis (Matt Walsh, 45), Tim Thorstensen, Will Murrills, Marc Cashman, Joe Hoare, Roscoe Atkins, Rob Jackson. Not used: Richard Pothecary.