Haywards Heath 41, Ashford 5: A home win and a welcome bonus point

Heath forwards executed some effective training ground manoevres
Heath forwards executed some effective training ground manoevres

In the fifth round of games of the 2016/17 season a confident Heath side, sitting in third position and with the tightest defence in the league, faced an Ashford side, who, although bottom of the table, were coming off the back of a fine victory against Lewes.

The home side were quickly into their stride and for the third week running it was the Heath pack, despite a change in personnel, who looked dominant in the set piece, giving a platform for fast ball for the three quarters. But as was the story for a lot of the afternoon, despite good field position and plenty of opportunities, Heath were unable to take those early chances and it was in fact the visitors who sored first after 12 minutes, following some sloppy Heath defence to take a 5 point advantage.

Heath u13s squad received their Heath Club ties on Saturday

Heath u13s squad received their Heath Club ties on Saturday

Stung by conceding Heath worked their way back to the Ashford 22 and when the pack released the runners out wide, outside half Peter Kerins crashed through the defenders for an equalising score 5-5.

Ashford came back strongly and were denied two try scoring opportunities by some ferocious Heath tackling and at this stage of the afternoon the difference in league positions was not evident in the slightest. Heath continued to play too loose and made a number of handling errors or took the wrong options instead of playing percentages through their forwards. Despite the mistakes it was Heath who were to score again with a flat pass releasing Jack Lucas to bulldoze through the Ashford rear guard for a try. Kerins added the conversion to give the home side some breathing space at 12- 5.

Heath continued to press and a Kerins penalty kept the scoreboard ticking over to 15-5. Despite losing Jack Lucas to injury, Heath’s game management improved and a penalty was kicked to within 15 yard of the Ashford try line where, from a forward’s perspective, a thing of beauty occurred. A great take in the middle of the lineout by back row Josh Salisbury allowed the Heath pack to quickly set and then drive a rolling maul with player/coach Huw Jenkins hidden away at the rear with the ball tucked under his arm. The leg pump from the home forwards took them up to and over their opponents line allowing Jenkins to dot down for a well drilled team try and a 20-5 lead.

By now the sun had disappeared and Whitemans Green was engulfed in a relentless drizzle which made handling tricky and the score remained the same to half time with Heath turning round to play up the slope .

It was more of the same after the break with Heath striving for the bonus point but being guilty of trying too hard to force the score, resulting in silly errors which halted their momentum. Ashord’s defensive effort was huge with their number 8 putting in an immense contribution to hold back the Heath attackers, but eventually the score came with Kerins picking up his second of the afternoon following good pressure by the Heath pack on the visitors line. Kerins converted his own try for 27-5 .

With the bonus point secured Heath didn’t let up and a short while later scrum half Brett Menefy made one of his trade mark lightning breaks - from the halfway line he beat the covering defence and scampered home for a score which capped his Man of the Match performance. Kerins added the extras for 34- 5.

Heath kept going and with a fresh impetus provided by the returning Sam Drage, who had been off for over a year with a knee injury, spent much of the remainder of the match in the Ashford half. The sixth try finally came courtesy of Heath captain Nick Main who carried hard all day and burst his way through the covering tacklers to score for 39 -5. Kerins put the conversion through the sticks to take his personal haul to 21 points in a final score of 41-5.

A lot of pluses for the coaching team with a bonus point achieved, the performance of a backline featuring four young players new to 1stXV rugby, the continued dominance of the Heath pack, the return of a player of Drage’s experience from long term injury and the adaptability of the Heath squad to play in different positions when required by injuries. At the same time, given the amount of errors and wrong decisions made, there is a lot of work still to do and the feeling persists that when this young team clicks and puts it all together there is a massive performance waiting to happen. Heath captain marked a fine day’s work on the pitch receiving the Heath Player of the Month Award for September, sponsored by Idlewild Bar & Kitchen, from Heath Chair Mark Newey. Next league match is on 22 October and sees Heath away against Thanet Wanderers - there is a coach of supporters travelling with the squad, email Sarah Fry sf@hhrfc.co.uk to reserve a place.

Heath 1st XV squad: Euan Greaves-Smith, Wilf Bridges, Jack Bull, Nick Miller, Tom Burns (Dan Shotton), Josh Salisbury, Huw Jenkins (Sam Drage), Nick Main,(Capt.), Brett Menefy, Peter Kerins, Bobby Conroy-Smith, Jack Lucas (Harry Preston-Bell), Dougie Kern, Henry Warwick, Jo Ratcliff

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