Haywards Heath 43, Aylesford Bulls 13: Heath secure third consecutive promotion

Heath were too strong for Aylesford Bulls
Heath were too strong for Aylesford Bulls

Heath's final home game of the season saw them facing a tough Aylesford Bulls side who had trounced sixth placed Lewes 36-0 the previous week and were having a strong end of the season campaign.

In fact it was the Bulls who had probably given Heath their toughest encounter of the season when Heath could only draw with them away back in December. That draw turned out to be the pivotal point of Heath's season as since then they have won all their games and climbed up into second in London South East 3, putting them within touching distance of promotion. A bonus point win against the Bulls would see them take an unassailable lead over third placed Thanet Wanderers given Heath had lost fewer matches over the season.

So on a glorious spring afternoon the Heath team took to the pitch at Whitemans Green with a team showing a number of changes due to injuries - injuries to Lucas and Diggle in the centre meant a somewhat lighter weight partnership of Fotheringham and Drage and changes in the pack meant starts for Beckett in the front row and the returning Adie Winters in the second row.

Despite the changes in personnel the home side were out of the blocks quickly and immediately had territory after player/coach Peter Kerins had found touch on the Bulls 5 yard line. The visitors’ line out creaked, the ball went loose which was all the encouragement open side flanker Harry Preston-Bell needed to pick up and dart through for the opening score. Kerins slotted the two points for a 7-0 lead after less than 5 minutes.

Heath were straight back at the visitors from the kick off with the front row of Euan Greaves-Smith, Wilf Bridges and Sam Beckett quick to grab the advantage in the tight and carrying well in the loose. From a good forward platform the ball was quickly spun wide right to winger Bobby Conroy-Smith

Who, receiving the ball just inside the visitors’ half with plenty to do, proceeded to do just that beating three defenders around the outside with pure pace to score the second try. Kerins was on the mark again with the conversion for a 14 -0 lead on ten minutes.

The Spring conditions underfoot allowed Heath to show off their running rugby

The Spring conditions underfoot allowed Heath to show off their running rugby

The game settled down into quite a physical encounter with the big Bulls forwards carrying well urged on by their lively scrum half. After a break down the middle off the back of a scrum the visitors managed to break a couple of tackles move the ball through hands and score their own well worked try for 14- 5.

Heath struggled for a period to reassert themselves and, after conceding a number of penalties, were down to 14 men after a team yellow was shown to hooker Bridges. Although this slowed down the scoring Heath still looked lively with scrum half Brett Menefy pulling the strings and Kerins pinning the Bulls back in their own half with his kicking. The Heath back row were on top by this stage with hard driving carries from both Nick Main and Dan Fergusson giving momentum to the side. From some scrappy ball on the half way line the ball was snaffled by Preston-Bell who from a seemingly innocuous position set off on a blistering run towards the right touchline before cutting back and out pacing the entire covering defence for his second try of the day. Kerins was wide with the kick but Heath had the ascendancy at 19-5 which was how the score stayed to the break.

The second half saw the Bulls fight back with a further unconverted try for 19 -10 and then a penalty for 19 -13. Heath's problems were compounded by a harsh second yellow for the lively Bridges following a disagreement between both sets of forwards. The Bulls second row also saw yellow from the same incident and so the sides were both down to 14 men going into the last quarter.

As has been the case all season with this Heath team, when the pressure is on they respond. Grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck Winters and Dan Shotton ruled the lineout, the entire pack had the shove on in the scrum and the Heath three quarters looked dangerous with ball in hand. The excitable and vociferous crowd of over 250 roared the team on as they looked to find the next score.

Heath were victorious in their final home match of the season

Heath were victorious in their final home match of the season

A moment of individual brilliance from Robbie Fotheringham saw him slice through the visiting defence for the all important bonus point try and move Heath away from danger. Kerins hit the extras for 26-13.

A short while later a ball kicked deep by the Bulls was fielded by the electric Henry Warwick at full back who set an attack going. From the ensuing ruck Fotheringham again opened up the defence before cleverly passing to winger Roscoe Atkins who in turn beat his covering defenders to score under the posts. Again Kerins was on target to put the game beyond the Bulls at 33-13.

By this stage the Heath bench of the industrious Nick Miller and the veterans Sam Galbraith and assistant coach Huw Jenkins were on the pitch and making an impact against a tired Bulls side.

Heath were to score a further try with a bulldozing run from front row Sam Beckett taking him up to the Bulls line where he was held before the supporting Sam Drage ripped the ball and touched down. Another two points for Kerins for 40 -13.

Dan Vander, Heath Vice-Chair presents framed Heath shirt to Monique Limerick from Vines of Gatwick BMW

Dan Vander, Heath Vice-Chair presents framed Heath shirt to Monique Limerick from Vines of Gatwick BMW

Heath were not finished and when the Bulls conceded a penalty with the last play of the game Kerins took the penalty shot which meant fantastic 43-13 win for Heath at the final whistle.

So amid scenes of celebration, the sharing of crates of beer with the opposition on the pitch after the game calculations were being checked and on the back of the bonus point win it was clear that Heath could not be caught in the league positions for promotion. An added bonus saw Pulborough only manage a draw away at Park House meaning that Heath are only one point off top spot as the teams go into the final round of matches next weekend.

Heath face Gillingham Anchorians away next week with the possibility of winning the league still available to them if results go their way. Whatever happens the squad will be buzzing having achieved the feat of a third consecutive promotion which will see them playing back in London South East 2 next season.

The day’s celebrations in the Clubhouse included presentation of a framed Heath shirt to Monique Limerick, Group Marketing Manager at the Club’s main sponsor Vines of Gatwick BMW thanking them for their fantastic support for the past two seasons and the awards for Idlewild Bar & Kitchen Players of the months for February and March toBrett Menefy and Sam Drage respectively.