It was a cracking weekend of rugby at Whitmans Green where Heath 1st XV hosted league leaders Thanet Wanderers in London South East 3 having edged the Kent side at their own ground earlier in the season.
Hoping for a tight win, the crowd - home and away supporters - and the Thanet team were set back on their heels by an outstanding first quarter from Heath, in which the home side quickly took a 15-0 lead with three scintillating tries. Although Thanet, with their busy number 8 to the fore, showed their resilience and quality in clawing their way back into the game, Heath held out for a critical bonus point win from a fiercely competitive, high quality contest.
Thirteen minutes into the game and Heath were monopolising the early ball through their mobile back row and the pressure exerted in the scrum, allowing Heath's quick fire backs to pose challenging questions - and, on three occasions, Thanet had no answers.
First, centre Robbie Fotheringham seared through from 50 metres. With Heath held up on the line, scrum half Brett Menefy, always alert, scudded over wide on the left. Quick ruck ball on the left of midfield was then moved wide along the three quarter line and a break and finely-timed pass from Fotheringham, set up Bobby Conroy-Smith - moving from wing to 15 for this game - to show his pace on the outside from 25 metres. Then again in this initial flurry heath showed its class as wing Jamie Diggle kicked ahead to the line for hooker Wilf Bridges to beat both Diggle and the Thanet defenders to the touchdown. With each try being touched down out wide, the conversions proved challenging for Peter Kerins and the score stood at 15-0.
As befitted the league leaders, Thanet did not roll over and the game became increasingly competitive. A penalty put the away side on the score board, but Heath were almost over again. With Thanet needing to move the ball from deep, Bridges charged down a kick on the away 10 metre line. He was quick on the ball, but unluckily his kick ahead bobbled over the dead ball line and the half ended with Thanet attacking to find a crack in the otherwise impregnable Heath defence for a well-constructed score on the right. No conversion, so 15-8 at half time and game on - a strong second 40 was going to be needed from Heath.
The second half reverted to the tight contest originally anticipated with both teams working for the upper hand. Euan Greaves-Smith worked very hard at prop and around the park and Harry Preston Bell was always mobile and hard-working on the ground. They gave way respectively to Joss Townsend and Josh Salisbury, both of whom impressively brought their experience to bear.
Kerins slotted over a penalty from 40 metres but Thanet were quick to reply with two penalties of their own for an 18-14 scoreline setting up a nervous period for Heath's loyal supporters. However, it was Heath's turn to put the pressure on as they camped on the Thanet goal line aided by their outstanding scrummaging, with powerful Jack Bull at the core. The reward was a try from a goal-line maul for Preston-Bell – back on the pitch as a blood replacement for man-of-the match Sam Drage and feeding off Townsend. Again no conversion, and at 23-14 Thanet slotted another penalty for 23-17 and a losing bonus point.
With the referee's watch seeming to stop and an extra ten minutes played, there was time for a couple of heart-stopping errors in defence from Heath before the final whistle, but the home side clung on.
There was joy in the clubhouse not only with the outcome of an exciting and hard-fought game that saw Heath move into third place, but with news of a convincing 48-12 Heath RAMS win over Chichester 3s and, of course, England's narrow win over Wales in a pulsating game in Cardiff. Club members cheered on an improved performance by ex Heath Colt and England prop, Joe Marler, back to muscular form. Next Saturday Heath travel to fifth-placed Folkestone, who benefitted from Lewes pulling out of their scheduled fixture last Saturday. It is always a tough destination, but Heath will travel confidently as they look to continue their current winning form through to the end of the season.
Heath 1st VX Squad: Jack Bull, Will Bridges, Euan Greaves-Smith Joss Townsend), Dan Shotton, Nick Miller (Dan Ferguson), Sam Drage, Harry Preston-Bell (Josh Salisbury) Nick Main (capt), Brett Menefy, Peter Kerins, Jamie Diggle, Jack Lucas, Robbie Fotheringham, Roscoe Atkins, Bobby Conroy-Smith. Coach: Peter Kerins, Assistant Coach: Huw Jenkins