The sun climbed high into a cloudless clear blue sky with hardly a breath of wind to be had.
Unfortunately, that was at 10.00am and by kick off, at 2.30pm, the temperature gauge had dropped to single figures, the dark grey clouds covered Brighton and a Force 5 (occasionally blustery Force 6) south-south westerly was bringing in bitterly cold squally showers from the Channel.
Having had St Francis cancel the cup fixture at the eleventh hour, the Heath RAMS were hungry for a game so up stepped Brighton 2nds/ 3rds (occasional 1sts if rumour be true) who were used to playing one and three leagues above the RAMS.
This would be a real test of resolve and pure out-and-out guts.
The squad, re-jigged again, welcomed back Sam Beckett, James Wright and Toby Glenn - whilst Casey Calder tried his hardest to make the step up to RAMS rugby from captaining the 1st XV. Looking resplendent in the Vines of Gatwick BMW sponsored shirts, the RAMS took to the field with an average age well in excess of their Brighton foe.
The play from the kick off set the tone for the afternoon - cold fingers, knock-ons and scrums. The newly formed Heath front five were on fire. Brighton collapsed with their feed - penalty to Heath.
Play continued with scrum after scrum - this was not a day to be an outside back. On ten minutes, the youthful Alex Meredith found Kevin McDonald running an angle for a lovely break. From the tackle a rolling maul was set up only to halted by Brighton. Time for another scrum. The RAMS having yet to play with the same front row stepped up and the combined effort of Carl Wicking, Sam Beckett and Simon Vavasour, along with Ben Morris and Martin McDonagh in the engine room won against the head. The first of many for the afternoon.
Huw Jenkins picked up, and two blistering runs from Reece Steel e and Ali Fraser made real inroads into the Brighton half where quick hands and a cheeky offload to Guiseppe enabled him to score and although the conversion was missed, the score stood deservedly at 5-0 to Heath.
The travelling support included the usual veterans and supporters but also injured and fit first team, injured and non-selected RAMS - all of which were vocal in their appreciation from their warm and dry bar vantage area. By now, the wind was up, the rain was driving across the pitch meaning cold fingers were only going to get colder.
From the restart a slight knock on by Heath, compounded by further infringements, led to a penalty to Brighton, which was drilled deep into Heath’s 22. Line out cleanly won, down and drive - you can see it coming a mile off but not a lot the Heath defence could do to stop a well orchestrated try. Conversion followed making it 7-5 to Brighton.
A try of that nature can spur a team into life, unfortunately, Brighton seized the advantage - a Heath break down the wing left the player somewhat exposed, Brighton turning over and a couple of missed Heath tackles allowed Brighton to score under the posts and it was 14-5 after an easy conversion.
The play went back-and-forth until, on 30 minutes, the Ox that is Martin McDonagh ran a line Sonny Bill Williams would be proud off, tackled, recycled and made rapid progress to the Brighton line. An unfortunate knock on by Heath just in front of the posts gave Brighton breathing room. Despite another enormous scrum by the Heath 8, Brighton secured the ball and cleared their lines.
By now, the weather had set in meaning the supporters having to take a step backwards towards the bar to prevent their beer from being watered down.
The atrocious weather was not helping flowing rugby. Heath was excellent in the breakdown again, not overly committing numbers and keeping width and the ball moved slowly but surely towards the Brighton try line. Then, out of nowhere, the ball was turned over and some quick hands through the backs now meant Brighton had gone 70 metres and putting pressure on Heath’s try line. Some manic Heath defence resulted in penalty after penalty – since it was a ‘friendly’ the referee was generous to both sides, keeping his yellow card in his pocket for the afternoon.
Heath’s defence was again resolute, repelling attack after attack. Penalty (Heath going over the top) followed penalty (Heath high tackle) followed penalty (Heath from the side) before Brighton conjured a cross field kick with three on one it was harder not to score than score. Somehow, Brighton knocked on when falling on the ball would have been easier. A big let off.
Half time gave both sides some respite from the appalling conditions. Second half, James Wright on as full back was immediately in the thick of it with a scything run through the middle. The referee awarded Brighton a penalty and from the resulting line out the ex-Heath Brighton tighthead barrelled through under the posts and the score to21-5.
But heads did not drop. It was now dark, cold, wet, windy and miserable. Time for some fresh legs -another scrum to Brighton, another massive Heath 8 effort to win against the head – and up popped Huw Jenkins to make the hard yards towards the Brighton try line. Brighton threw everything legal or otherwise at the defence and moved towards the Heath line. A kick to touch was charged down, the ball bouncing awkwardly but helpfully towards Brighton who fell over to secure the five points. Conversion bounced off the post 28-5 to Brighton.
Still, the support was vocal. Still the heads were held high. There is a buzz about the Heath RAMS - a band of brothers willing to do anything for the cause and team mates.
With Paddy Sandys-Renton on the pitch, Heath had a rampaging bull. No fancy footwork – just route one through the middle. Tackle, not held. Tackle, not held. Tackle, not held. A delightful offload by Reece found James Wright who released Tim Salisbury to score a really well worked try and close the scoreline to 28-10.
Play battled backwards and forwards before some handbags, Prada would have been proud of, interrupted normal proceedings. From the resulting penalty Brighton went from right wing to left to score: 33-10
The biting wind was swirling around the pitch, and the restart didn’t make 10m. James Wright was playing a blinder and making big yards so it was now Heath’s turn to move from wing to wing, with Ali Fraser going over in the corner. A difficult conversion was nailed to finish the match 33-17.
Despite the scoreline, Heath RAMS can be immensely proud of playing against opposition from much higher league placing and, not only taking the game to them, but dominating the scrum and breakdown. None of the 15 had played together before and can build on their achievements for future league and cup fixtures. This match summed up grassroots rugby at its best, enjoyment and commitment with everyone giving their utmost and leaving everything on the pitch for the benefit of the team. Heath RFC welcomes players of all ages and abilities so if you fancy getting your boots out of the cupboard and getting back on the pitch to enjoy your rugby again, join Heath RAMS - contact Heath Director of Rugby email@example.com or Heath 2nd XV Manager David Funnell on firstname.lastname@example.org
Squad: 15. Casey Calder 14. Ali Fraser 13. Reece Steele 12. Kevin McDonald 11. Tim Salisbury 10. Alex Meredith 9. Guy Sandys-Renton 1. Sam Beckett 2. Simon Vavasour 3. Carl Wicking 4. Martin McDonagh 5. Ben Morris 6. Wilf Bridges 7. Guiseppe Briamonte 8. Huw Jenkins 16. David Funnell 17. James Wright 18. Paddy Sandys-Renton 19. Toby Glenn 20. Tony “Chewy” Gregory 21. Will Haworth 22. Joe “Cheesy” Cheeseman Physio: Tim
Manager: David Funnell