Heath’s unbeaten season came to end in the semi final of the Bob Rogers Cup on the all weather 3G pitch at Brighton RFC last week in an epic encounter with Crowborough - a team sitting four leagues above Heath.
Heath, who had just returned from their tour to the west country where the unbeaten run had continued, fielded an unfamiliar line up with a number of regular players missing through injury - but with coach Jody Levett picking a side that looked highly competitive notwithstanding the difference in league status between the two sides.
The game kicked off under the lights in front of a good sized crowd with both teams seeking to adjust to playing on the artificial surface. Crowborough showed their experience and dominated the early exchanges and were able to get the upper hand at scrum time. Heath fronted up well and did not look overawed, competing well at the breakdown and in a tight midfield contest. Crowborough pressure led to an infringement after 8 minutes from an over eager Heath team at a ruck and the opposition outside half stuck the penalty over for a 3-0 lead .
Heath were straight back at Crowborough and started to get their game going with the front row of Duncan Liddell, George Harris and Euan Greaves-Smith to the fore in the loose making valuable yards for the team and Pat Pritchard and Jack Best orchestrating matters from half back. On a windy evening the final pass was often going astray and Heath were unable to turn the possession into points and it was they who were to concede again with another penalty for offside going over after 15 minutes meaning that Crowborough had a 6-0 lead.
Heath continued to compete well and played the next few phases of play in Crowborough territory with Robbie Fotheringham making a break and trying to release Tim Salisbury on the wing - a move which Crowborough managed to get across to cover. On 20 minutes a clearing kick from the Crowborough fly half sat up nicely off the 3G surface for their chasing back row giving the Heath defence no chance and resulting in a try to take the score to 11-0. It seemed that despite the good rugby played by Heath the gulf in league positions was having an effect and that they might be in for a long evening and on the receiving end of a big score.
However the next forty minutes dispelled that concern and gave Heath a real platform to work from for next season and beyond as this young team responded. A phenomenal effort from the forwards with driving runs from Tom Kenyon Burns, bursts off the back of the scrum from number 8 Steve May and outstanding line out work from Man of the Match Nick Miller meant Heath were able to turn the squeeze on Crowborough - good field position on the left just outside the Crowborough 22 and some great work from Will Purdie playing at open side for the first time, led to the forwards setting up a rolling maul which just kept on rumbling up to and over the Crowborough line with flanker Dan Fergusson emerging from the pile with the try. Heath were still trailing by 11-5 but with a score on the board had their tails up. Heath continued to dominate for the remainder of the half but could not get back over the whitewash but turned round with all to play for .
The second half picked up where the first left off with Heath maintaining the pressure through better ball retention and any Crowborough attacks were snuffed out and cleared by the raking boot of Sam Galbraith at full back. It wasn’t long before Heath were back deep into opposition territory with Crowborough being repeatedly penalised for infringements at the breakdown - after a period of sustained pressure in the Crowborough 22 winger Jamie Diggle took a quick tapped penalty and dived over the line where he was half held up until he was supported by a powerful drive from centre Jack Lucas allowing Diggle to get the touch down. Best kicked the conversion and it was game on - Heath leading 12-11.
From the restart Heath were straight back at Crowborough and after 55 minutes were on the board again after they pinned the opposition back in their 22 once again - a Crowborough line out 5 metres from their own try line gave Heath the chance to increase the pressure further and when the ball was slapped back by a Crowborough hand, Heath blind side Fergusson was quickest through the gap to score making it 17 -11 to Heath with 25 minutes remaining.
At this stage Crowborough showed their experience and battle hardiness from playing season competitive rugby in the higher leagues week in week out. They identified the scrummage as their point of strength and turned the screw causing Heath to lose possession and concede penalties allowing Crowborough to pull the score back to level the match with about 10 minutes remaining. Heath tried to run the ball back at the opposition but couldn’t keep the ball for any long periods of time, although without the ball their defensive effort remained immense. With just five minutes remaining some fine work from the Crowborough midfield created enough holes in the Heath defence for their full back to run an angle and score taking Crowborough back into the lead at 22-17.
Despite a frantic last few minutes, Heath couldn’t work the ball into territory from which to launch a final attack and the final score remained at 22-17 to Crowborough.
A fantastic effort from Heath from which they will learn a lot as a squad at the end of a long and eventful season. Chairman of HHRFC, Mark Newey said “I am extremely proud of the Heath boys, after falling behind they could have sat back and accepted defeat against higher ranked opposition but they dug in and turned this match around, only to lose out to a quality Crowborough side in the final quarter of the match. Heath can be justly proud not just for this performance but for how they have conducted themselves over this season and for the way the new emerging homegrown talent has taken responsibility to step up when required and help deliver quality performances. Rugby was the winner today and we look forward with anticipation to next season and all that this will bring during Rugby World Cup year”.
If you are interested in playing rugby for Heath next season, join their pre-season training this summer at Whitemans Green or find out more about the touch rugby at the Club. For more information contact Glen Jones, HHRFC Director of Rugby on firstname.lastname@example.org Players of all ages and abilities welcome.