Still smarting from their controversial away loss in Kent last week Heath welcomed Hove back to Whitemans Green to renew a local rivalry which had not seen the 1st XVs play each other competitively for nearly four years, writes Phil Herbert.
Whereas Hove had got off to a perfect start in the league with three bonus point wins under their belt which had deservedly seen them top the London South East Division 2 table, Heath were sitting mid division after managing only one win from three - all of which they could and should have won.
Both sides were showing changes to their starting line ups and, being a local derby, a big crowd was on hand to watch what turned out be a very good game of rugby despite the torrential rain from earlier in the week making the pitch and surrounding areas heavy underfoot.
The first half saw Heath playing up the hill against a well drilled Hove side who were a step up from the other teams Heath had faced so far this season. The first 15 minutes were all played in the Hove half with the Heath team being fiercely combative around the breakdown area and pinning the visitors back at every opportunity. After sustained pressure from the Heath pack who to a man were outstanding all afternoon came the first try when, from a ruck just outside the Hove 22, open side flanker Josh Salisbury came straight through the middle taking play almost up to the try line from where fellow back row Darren Lockyer was able to drive through for the score. With the conversion sliding wide Heath held an early 5-0 lead.
Hove started to come back into the game and after a penalty gave them a line out option on 25 minutes they moved the ball quickly off the top to their inside centre who showed real pace to beat the Heath defence to level the score at 5-5 .
It was now game on with the sides going toe to toe to grind out the next score with Heath still playing most of the rugby in the visitors’ half . More immense work from the Heath pack following a line out in the Hove 22 saw Man of the Match Salisbury crash through defenders for a try. Peter Kerins converted for a 12- 5 lead to Heath.
Hove came storming back and had their own period of pressure on the Heath line but wrong options and turnovers forced by the defiance and committed attitude of the Heath side meant that Hove’s time in the strike zone went pointless. Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when shortly before half time Heath managed to work their way into opposition territory where a chip through from scrum half George Davies was chased down by the ever-willing Wilf Bridges to score in the corner for his fifth try of the season and a 17 -5 scoreline.
Hove’s attempt to get back into the game after the break immediately hit the buffers as Heath managed to get the bonus point try within a minute of the restart. With the slope now in their favour Heath gained territory through a thunderous angled run from winger Jamie Diggle which animated the home crowd. A knock on at the ensuing breakdown meant a scrum to Hove but the Heath pack with their tails up were having none of it and an eight man drive drove the visitors off the ball. Quick hands from Nick Main set an attack running and after some delightful short passing between Ed Bowden and Darren Lockyer, the latter went over for his second try of the afternoon and a 22-5 lead.
Bonus point achieved and game over? Not a chance as Hove showed what a good side they are and came storming back with a try of their own after strong running from their big full back burst through the Heath tacklers and set up a try for 22 -12. The momentum shift was palpable and it was now Heath making the small mistakes which handed over possession as Hove started throwing the ball around to their slick backs. Further Hove pressure led to a Heath scrum near their own line and when the home side managed to cough up possession the Hove center went in for another converted score for 22-19.
Hove were buoyant at coming back to within a penalty of their hosts and appeared to believe that the winning score was theirs for the taking in the remaining 20 minutes of the game. However, Heath had other ideas and the resilience of the team shone through as they weathered a further Hove attack and then, following a penalty, moved the ball wide where a barnstorming run from Bowden put Bobby Conroy-Smith in for another heath try. Kerins hit the extras for 29-19 with ten minutes to go.
Hove went in desperate search of both a bonus try and losing bonus point to take something out of the game but the ferocity of the Heath defence kept them at bay and defused each attack. With the clock running down Heath went on the attack again and, after a number of surging drives from the forwards, Joss Townsend battered his way through to score a try for the front row – a just reward for an afternoon of complete commitment to the task. Kerins slotted the conversion for a score at the final whistle of 36- 19.
Heath 1st XV Head Coach Matt Hawkes was delighted by the win and the confidence that the best display of the season would bring to his team. Six tries against the league leaders was an impressive return for the afternoon’s work underpinned by some proper graft from a relatively small but mobile pack facing a much heavier opposition eight. Whilst it seems churlish to pick holes in the performance, there were a number of opportunities that Heath didn’t manage to take despite time in the opposition 22 and the coaching team will still be looking to find a way to stop the side apparently taking their foot off the gas once the try bonus point is achieved. That said the discipline and defensive resolve to win a game that has taken Heath up to fourth in the table was highly impressive and will be raising a few eyebrows elsewhere in the league. Next weekend sees Heath on another Kent road trip this time to Dover – places will be available on the coach for supporters.
Heath RAMs were also playing a home league match with Crawley providing another derby fixture. Competition for senior places meant a strong RAMS side turned out and in an entertaining match ran out comprehensive 50-7 winners.
Heath 1stXV squad: Jack Bull, Alex Wolfe, Joss Townsend, Ed Bowden, Steve Doku, Darren Lockyer (Charlie Milner), Josh Salisbury, Nick Main,George Davies, Peter Kerins, Jamie Diggle (Roscoe Atkins), Jack Lucas (Max Drage), Wilf Bridges, Bobby Conroy-Smith, Henry Warwick