With both sides having won one and lost one this season the encounter between Heath and Eastbourne promised to be a tight affair as the visitors brought their greater league experience to Whitemans Green on a warm September afternoon.
Heath, who were showing five changes from the previous week’s game, started well and it was clear from the outset that the Eastbourne pack were going to be in for a torrid time in the tight as the home side’s scrummaging looked hugely impressive. It was from a scrum on the Eastbourne 22 that the first score came when a mighty drive from the Heath pack set a platform for the forwards to drive to the left through a number of phases before an offload to hooker Will Purdy saw him crash his way through defenders for the opening try. Peter Kerins fired over the two points and Heath had an early 7 -0 lead.
Straight from the restart some sloppy defending from Heath in allowing the ball to bounce gave Eastbourne a sniff of a chance which they clinically took, scoring a try under the posts which was converted for 7-7. This rather set the theme for the day as both teams played some loose but entertaining rugby as the game see-sawed from end to end. Both sides had kickable penalties awarded to them but chose to press on for a bigger score. Although Heath’s pack was strongly in the ascendancy, Eastbourne managed to score another try from a scrum in the Heath 22 from which a gap opened in defence allowing a try under the sticks for a 7-14 lead for the visitors.
Heath were stung into action and only some desperate defence from the Eastbourne forwards prevented the home pack from driving over. Despite waves of Heath pressure Eastbourne were holding on for half time until an Eastbourne yellow card for a ruck infringement further shifted the momentum. A Heath scrum wide right followed by a pick and go allowed young debutant scrum half Jo Ratcliff to squeeze over in the corner. Kerins hit a majestic conversion from out wide for 14-14 scoreline which is how it stayed until the half time whistle.
The home side turned around to play down the hill and, given the levels of fitness that they had shown in their previous two league games, were looking to kick on for the win and a bonus point. Cheered on by a large and partisan crowd Heath didn’t disappoint but it took a little time to put the game to bed. The sides finally started playing more percentage rugby and after both kickers had exchanged penalties for 17-17 it looked like the game was going to the wire. With 20 minutes to go and the Heath bench emptied, the relentless work of the home pack paid dividends with a series of pick and go charges taking play deep into Eastbourne territory. The ball was moved blind side and taken up by winger Jamie Diggle who scorched back inside past trailing Eastbourne defenders to dot down for a try. The conversion drifted wide meaning the score was 22- 17 going into the final quarter.
Ten minutes later and Heath had secured the bonus point. A bullocking run from the half way line from Joss Townsend had taken Heath up to the Eastbourne line only for the referee to give a penalty to the visitors who kicked for touch. Heath regained possession and fed the ball to Diggle who came off his wing and down the centre of the pitch and was under the posts for his second try of the afternoon. Kerins sent the conversion over for 29-17.
Eastbourne didn’t lie down and in the final few minutes and gave it everything to get a score back and get their own bonus point. Heath had a man sent to the bin and with the last play of the game Eastbourne scored a converted try for a final score of 29 -24.
The crowd enjoyed a highly entertaining game which with the win bonus point moved Heath into third place in the league albeit at a very early stage of the season. The Heath side will need to be far more clinical with their opportunities particularly given their dominance up front and the number of line-breaks that did not result in scores if they are going to sustain such a lofty league position come the end of the seaon.
Heath Rams played away at St Francis RFC going down in a really tough encounter 37-24. Next week sees Heath 1st XV away to Old Dunstonians and the Rams at home to Brighton 3.
Heath 1stXV squad: Euan Greaves-Smith, Will Purdy, (Jack Bull), Joss Townsend, Nick Miller, Tom Burns, Harry Preston Bell (Huw Jenkins), Dan Fergusson, Nick Main (Capt.), Jo Ratcliff, Peter Kerins, Claude Cox (Bobby Conroy-Smith), Wilf Bridges, Jack Lucas, Jamie Diggle, Robbie Fotheringham.
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