RUGBY: Gillingham Anchorians 5 Haywards Heath 18

Haywards Heath Rugby Club first team squad
Haywards Heath Rugby Club first team squad
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The sun shone on Heath as they celebrated their promotion with a solid 18-5 win at Gillingham Anchorians.

The squad and coaches were delighted with a season’s end.

The campaign saw them rack up: the largest number of wins and biggest points difference in their own league, finish with one of the best defensive records in all the London and South East leagues and of course, a third successive promotion.

The only slight downside is that, although league leaders Pulborough missed out on a try bonus at home to Lewes, Heath couldn’t find a fourth try at Gillingham to pip their local rivals to the league championship.

Dropping two league points in a draw at Aylesford and missing out on five other try bonus opportunities - all in the first half of the season - were as significant as any other factor.

But 19 wins, a draw and just two narrow losses is a very good record to be celebrated.

The momentum in 2017 has been outstanding and Heath will be working hard to maintain this at the next level next season.

This was an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance by Heath and travelling supporters shook their heads at a disappointing first quarter, ending with a straightforward try from Gills to take them into an unexpected 5-0 lead.

However, Heath’s spirits brightened either side of half-time.

Sam Drage, playing out of position in the centre, burst through for an unconverted try on 27 minutes and Heath continued to press - not helped by the absence of Jamie Diggle following a yellow card for a technical offence.

Their only reward though was a penalty on half-time from Peter Kerins to take them into the break-time huddle 8-5 ahead.

Then, on 54 minutes, a sun-burned Bobby Conroy-Smith showed his pace to outflank the home defence and extend the lead to 13-5.

This was followed, on 60 minutes by a deserved try from a well-controlled driving maul by hooker Wilf Bridges.

Neither was converted, but Heath entered the final quarter 18-5 up.

There were then a string of opportunities for Heath to find the fourth try but, despite a dominant scrum, searing breaks - one in particular from outstanding scrum half Brett Menefy - and periods encamped on the Gills’ line, a combination of further basic mistakes and a resilient Gills defence, saw Heath unable to add to their tally.

Diggle’s second yellow card, with a Gills player shown a straight red in the same tussle, didn’t help continuity.

At the end of the game, the players celebrated the win and the promotion, but the news from Pulborough added a tinge of disappointment that Heath had just missed out, by one league point, on ending the season as London 3 South East League champions.

Heath RAMS had a great 26-24 win over league leaders Hastings and Bexhill earlier in the day meaning a double celebration for Heath at the end of a long and well-travelled league season.

Onwards and upwards - for the Rams to the Sussex Plate final against East Grinstead Seconds on April 29.

The first XV will now enjoy a two-month break before preparations begin for next season’s tough challenges in London 2 South East.

With 500 miles on the road and well over 585 points, the sun certainly shone on Heath this season.

Heath 1st XV squad:

Sam Beckett, Wilf Bridges, Euan Greaves-Smith, Dan Shotton (Dan Fergusson), Adrian Winters, Harry Preston-Bell (Huw Jenkins), Josh Salisbury, Nick Main (Joss Townsend), Brett Menefy, Doug Kearns, Sam Drage, Jamie Diggle, Bobby Conroy-Smith, Henry Warwick