After two successive promotions Heath hosted Kent side Gillingham Anchorians in their first game back in the London Leagues.
Heath fielded a strong squad for the opening match with a good blend of youth and experience which included a welcome return for 1st team skipper and number 8 Nick Main who was playing his first competitive game for 18 months after sustaining a serious knee injury. Given the recent good weather, the pitch at Whitemans Green was hard but by the time the teams kicked off the wind had got up and the rain set in for the afternoon which made playing conditions really tough for an early season encounter.
Even though playing into the strong wind, it was the visitors who were quicker into their stride and Gillingham looked a well-drilled side with some big forwards and a couple of speedy wingers. They took the game to Heath and had the majority of possession in the opening quarter although Heath’s defence stood up well with the team looking highly organised as they countered the visitors’ attacks. A couple of Gillingham breaks out wide looked dangerous but were snuffed out by some fine covering tackles and, once the pressure had been soaked up, Heath were able to start building a platform of their own to launch an attack. From a scrum on the wide left just inside the Gillingham half Heath number 9, Brett Menefy, broke at pace up the touch line before drawing the defender and putting winger Rory Diggle in for the opening try and a 5-0 lead for Heath.
Gillingham came straight back at Heath and again the home side had to play for long periods without the ball whilst repelling the visitors’ attacks.
Strong work by the Heath pack stopped what looked like a certain try and on the half hour Heath were on the board again - a long clearing kick was chased down deep into Gillingham territory by Robbie Fotheringham on the right wing and, when the opposition winger couldn’t gather it cleanly, the Heath winger took advantage with a quick inside pass to Menefy forcing Gillingham to concede a penalty to prevent the try. Peter Kerins slotted the points for 8-0.
Five minutes later and Heath were able to turn the screw again with another penalty in front of the posts after some Gillingham ill discipline at a ruck. Again Kerins put the ball through the uprights for an 11-0 lead which Heath took to the break. Whilst Heath had a healthy lead the game was far from over as Gillingham were turning round to play the second 40 minutes with the gale and driving rain behind them and any type of score would put them right back in the match.
Although Gillingham tried to kick long for field position, the Heath defence remained strong and the visitors were unable to execute any meaningful attacks from the territory they were able to gain. Other than one shot at goal from a penalty Heat conceded on the 10 yard line which fell short, the visitors never looked like scoring. As the game progressed and the Heath substitutes came on it was clear that the home side were the fitter of the two teams and were playing the more streetwise rugby with the final 20 minutes almost all played in the opponent’s half. Every time Gillingham tried to gain territory the Heath forwards closed them down and the backs took the ball back deep into opposition territory. It was from one such foray that the next score came after some intense Heath pressure. A 5 yard scrum allowed Heath to really impose themselves on the Gillingham pack and they drove their opponents back over their line for Man of the Match Nick Main to mark his return to action with a well worked try. Kerins knocked the extras over taking the score to 18-0.
With a couple of minutes of the game remaining the Heath pack were on the rampage again with a driving maul allowing Joss Townsend to crash over for another try. Kerins banged over the conversion for 25-0. Heath strived for the bonus point try but in the wet conditions couldn’t get the final pass to hand before the final whistle came so Heath had to be satisfied with a strong team performance and a great outcome for their first game in London 3 South East.
A fantastic start to the season for Heath in horrible conditions but plenty to work on for the forthcoming games for the new coaching team of Peter Kerins and his assistant Huw Jenkins. Next week sees Heath away at top of the table Pulborough.
Heath RAMs opened their campaign away at Crawley and after a tough but close game went down 14-7 in a tight encounter. Next week the Rams are at home to Littlehampton.
Heath 1stXV squad: Euan Greaves-Smith, Will Purdey (Marc Cashman), Joss Townsend, Nick Miller (Dan Shotton), Tom Burns, Harry Preston Bell, Josh Salisbury, Nick Main(Capt.), Brett Menefy, Peter Kerins, Rory Diggle, Wilf Bridges, Jack Lucas, Robbie Fotheringham, Jack Best. (Unused sub: Huw Jenkins)
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