Guernsey arrived at Whitemans Green in second place but on the same points as leaders Hastings & Bexhill and so Sunday’s encounter with Heath was a must win game for Guernsey to give them any chance of winning the league.
For fifth place Heath, anything less than a draw would leave them vulnerable from sixth place Bognor.
And so the scene was set, on a bright, breezy and cold afternoon to kick off on a pitch which in places was sodden and slow. With player numbers increasing week by week, Heath coach Stodart had a healthy squad from which to pick his starting team, and although the first five or ten minutes were a nervous affair with both teams struggling to find a pair of hands with their passing, it didn’t take long for them to settle down. Heath started to inject some pace into the game making it exciting viewing for those who were on the sidelines braving the cold.
A 20th minute Guernsey scrum resulted in a charge down by Heath inside the Guernsey 22 followed by another charge down minutes later. Heath had the bit between their teeth and were applying pressure and playing wing to wing rugby resulting in a sustained period of play well inside the Guernsey half. The Haywards Heath scrum was again performing well against a much larger and stronger pack than in recent games, and it was a 29th minute scrum that supplied the ball for George Harris to power over the Guernsey try line to win the first points of the match. Matt Chandler stepped up and duly converted to rapturous applause, giving Haywards Heath a 7-0 lead.
The match resumed with Guernsey finding fifth gear. The team which had looked average in the first half hour stepped up and starting knitting some nice passes together. Heath were forced out of play on their left wing and Guernsey took full advantage, swiftly moving the ball to the other side of the pitch, finding a route through the Heath defence resulting in their first points of the match. It was fortuitous for Heath that the wind had picked up in their favour and a difficult conversion was made even more so and Guernsey were unable to grab the extra two points. Haywards Heath went into the second half with a slim two point advantage.
The second half started in much the way the first half finished, with Guernsey dictating the pace of play. Haywards Heath found themselves firmly entrenched in their own half for long periods, needing to dig in and defend hard - and they did. It wasn’t pretty at times but some excellent teamwork and some good ‘touch finding’ kicks from Matt Chandler kept the Guernsey Colts at bay. Guernsey pressure was unrelenting and Heath were turned over time and time again. Guernsey were spinning the ball out to the wings and were looking for the same route through that allowed them to score in the first half. Although a forward pass from Guernsey gave Heath a momentary respite, it wasn’t long before some superb ball handling from Guernsey led to their second converted try.
Though the game was played in good spirits, it was a bruising match and Heath sustained a number of injuries during the game keeping medic Dave McCauly unusually busy with cuts, back injuries and foot injuries. Guernsey seemed to show some signs of slowing down, which was not surprising after the domination they had enjoyed during the first 30 minutes of the second half, but as they slowed down, Heath stoked their fire and took off their brakes! Again, it was scrappy, again it wasn’t the most attractive rugby, but Heath just wouldn’t give in and most of all it was effective as they pinned Guernsey back into their own 22. Heath’s teamspirit, grit and determination really does need to be admired as it was such an important part of their game. At 7-12 with just 5 minutes to go, the supporters began to feel that Heath could possibly get something from this game and with coach Simon Stodart shouting his instructions from the sideline, Tom George went over in the corner with the last play of the game to level the match. An exhilarating climax to the encounter; whilst Guernsey will be disappointed to have let a win slip away, Heath Colts in equal measures will be extremely pleased with their performance and the result.
With just one more league game to go, Colts coaches Simon Stodart and Adrien Winters have nurtured a team that is now growing in confidence and self-belief and Haywards Heath RFC can be mightily proud of how their Colts are finishing the season. Hayward Heath’s last game of the season will be away to Championship leaders Hastings on the 12th April. Anybody interested in joining HHRFC Colts should visit www.hhrfc.co.uk for further information.