Aylesford Bulls 14, Haywards Heath 14: Heath fight back to draw against the Bulls

Heath 1st XV
Heath 1st XV

Heath travelled away to Aylesford Bulls in their penultimate game of 2016.

The Kent side had finished third in London South East 3 last year but had not fared so well this year with a large number of missing personnel meaning they were bottom of the division albeit with a lot of those absent players returning for the Heath game.

Heath try scorer Joe Ratcliff

Heath try scorer Joe Ratcliff

Heath have often been a team with a game of two halves this season with a good performance in either half but never quite together . This week only really saw them pick their game up in the last quarter of the match in what with a combination of basic mistakes and questionable officiating proved to be a very difficult afternoon for the away side.

In the first half Heath started well winning a lot of ball although the lineout continued to be their achilles heel . An injury to influential front row Jack Bull after only 20 minutes resulting from foul play did not help matters and the team also struggled to gain any momentum after getting on the wrong side of the referee . Even though Heath were having the majority of the play Aylesford were the first to score when on one of their rare trips to the Heath half they scored a soft try due to a defensive error in the away backline which allowed the Bulls inside centre to break through the middle and offload to the wing forward to score.

Seven nil to the home side after 30 minutes. Heath came back strongly and after good pressure were denied a try when winger Bobby Conroy- Smith was held up short of the line following a break and offload by fly half Peter Kerins.

Aylesford kept it tight with a lot of pick and goes in an attempt to stop Heath playing which tactic was assisted by Heath’s own mistakes and the on-going issue of being on the wrong side of the majority of refereeing decisions . Heath felt aggrieved by some late hits which were not picked up by the match official which in turn meant they lost focus on what was needed to win the game.

So at the break it remained 7-0 to the Bulls with Heath looking to assert themselves in the second half.

Unfortunately the second half was more of the same and although Heath started to improve in the lineout they still could not get a grip of the game or the referee. Aylesford continued to make a lot of yards by keeping it tight and crashing around the fringes using their big centre to make ground. Overall Heath’s backs looked to have more quality but without sufficient ball they could not get a platform to start changing the game.

Matters went from bad to worse when Kerins was sent to the bin on 60 minutes for retaliation after foul play on the bottom of a ruck from the Bulls forwards.

A misplaced pass from Heath in open space in the middle of the pitch led to an interception try from 40 metres out and a lead for the Bulls of 14-0.

At this stage it looked all over for the visitors as the Bulls partisan crowd were buoyant and the belief that an elusive win was on the cards was bringing a confidence to the Aylesford team.

This Heath side do not know when they are beaten and with a tactical change to a high tempo tap and go game they took the attack to Aylesford for the last 15 minutes. A strong break by Josh Salisbury from the base of a ruck came close to a score and another score was denied by the referee giving a penalty against Heath when they queried the failure to punish an off the ball incident.

The sense of injustice now brewing within the Heath team fired them up and they started to run everything. A good set of carries led to an overlap in the backs which was finished off nicely by full back Joe Ratcliff . Kerins managed to slot a tough conversion from the right side of the posts to pull it back to 14-7 and it was game on. Five minutes later Heath broke from their own 22 down the blind side with all of the backs at some stage touching the ball and some great link up play between Ratcliff and Conroy-Smith leading to a score. Conroy -Smith still had a lot of work to do from 40 metres but glided in off his wing running a switch move with Ratcliff to score a try under the posts. Kerins added the 2 and the score was now 14-14 with under 10 minutes to play.

Heath tried in vain to get the next score and piled on the pressure, but the game ended following a break from the Heath half being offloaded to the ever threatening Ratcliff who was bundled into touch 10 metres out. The final whistle was blown with the afternoon then being soured by Ratcliff suffering concussion after being punched after the whistle which led to a further spat between both teams.

So a tough afternoon for Heath with dropped points in the league but of more concern injuries to key players arising from apparent foul play . The strength of character of this Heath side was readily apparent in fighting back for the draw when being two scores behind . The Heath team will now need to regroup for what will be another difficult encounter against second placed Pulborough at home this Saturday . A big crowd is expected following the Heath Christmas lunch.

In another tight game Heath RAMS lost by just a single point to a converted penalty in the last minute of the game in an entertaining but ultimately disappointing 25-24 loss to Hastings & Bexhill 2 . The RAMS are also at home this week when hosting Crawley 2 meaning that Whitemans Green will be very busy this Saturday.

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