The eighth round of London South East 2 league took Heath to the East End to visit Barking RFC with rugby legend Jason Leonard present, supporting his home club, writes Dave Grimley.
The Heath Under 9s provided a curtain raiser to the main event and impressed both clubs with their organisation and slick running which set the scene for the senior game that followed.
Barking is a club struggling in the league, having yet to register their first victory. The problems they face are similar to those Heath experienced a few seasons ago and it was clear from the warm-up that Barking had drafted in some vets to make up the numbers.
After hosting one of the most friendly and welcoming pre-match lunches experienced in the league, Barking kicked off on a beautiful autumnal day. The skies were clear and the earlier heavy rain had made the ground slightly soft underfoot - perfect conditions for a game of rugby.
Within the first ten minutes, Heath’s second row Steve Doku limped off after picking up a knock and was replaced by Max Drage, with Heath reshuffling their pack to minimise the impact of the changes. Barking may have been a cobbled-together team but they started the match with fluidity and passion, putting the visitors on the back foot. Barking went route-one, pick and go, going through the phases, making ground inch after inch, yard after yard. Heath's defence stayed strong, not surprising as they currently boast the second tightest defence in the league. Barking made it across the try-line, but were held up with some last minute and courageous defending. The resulting scrum to the hosts was defended strongly allowing Heath to not only clear their lines but re-group.
Play continued with Heath's scrum half George Davies making impressive breaks, but Heath's discipline let them down, giving away penalties and losing valuable territory, the final infringement allowing Barking to kick the points to take a deserved 3-0 lead.
Wayne Williams then made the breakthrough that was needed as Heath won the line out and, with the line in sight, prop Alex Wolfe ran through unopposed. Kerins had his kicking boots on all afternoon and nailed the extras making the score 3-7 to Heath. It had taken the first fifteen minutes for Heath to get on the scoreboard but for much of the rest of the match, there was no stopping them.
It was Peter Kerins and Robbie Fotheringham who combined for the next score, with the latter putting a sublime little chip through from the 10m line to be collected by Henry Warwick on the 22, who needed no further invitation to score. Metronomic Kerins added the extras to make it 3-14 to Heath.
After the restart, the Heath forwards went through the phases, now tying in the Barking pack and making the hard yards. This time it was Fotheringham, turning from provider into scorer, who ran a silky line to split the defence. Kerins again added the extra two points to secure a comfortable 3-21 lead with just a quarter of the match gone.
Barking never once let their heads drop and it was clear they were going to fight and scrap for every morsel. The home crowd still backed their team, cheering every tackle and appreciating the effort their boys were putting in on the pitch.
Duncan Liddell made a bullocking run before Sam Galbraith sprinted some 40 metres to score. Kerins, in scintillating form with the boot, added the extra two points taking the score to 3-28 to Heath and bonus point secured. In similar positions in previous games Heath have been accused of switching off and giving the opposition a life-line. This was to be different and Heath continued to stay focused and turn the screw.
With backs and forwards combining well and play moving from wing-to-wing, Jamie Diggle undertook a run which looked to beat every player on the pitch. With all the hard work done, the final pass to Euan Greaves-Smith went astray and Barking were able to clear their lines.
Galbraith was not to be denied and a show-and-go allowed him to make in-roads into the Barking half. Diggle was in support, which allowed Galbraith to pick up his second try in a matter of minutes. Kerins nailed the conversion pushing the score to 3-35 to Heath.
From the restart, with the clock ticking towards half-time, scrum-half George Davies was through - only for the ref to call it back for an earlier infringement. Kerins found a good touch and Williams provided the support to allow Nick Main to power through to make it an impressive 3-42 to Heath at half time.
Despite Barking being over-powered by a younger, fitter and better drilled team, not once did their attitude change or was a single backwards step taken. These were boys (and vets) who were there to play for their club, the badge on their shirt and their mates. Proper rugby at its best. Despite being 40-odd points down, they talked only of passion and getting on the scoreboard and deserve huge credit for maintaining this attitude throughout the afternoon.
The light was now fading fast and the spotlights were turned on - it was Heath's opportunity to shine. The second half continued as the first half finished, with Diggle performing a cheeky hand-off and scoring. After Kerins converted to maintain his impressive kicking record, the scoreline stretched out to 3-49 to Heath. From the restart, Heath secured the ball and Liddell, hungry for another Heath try, squeezed through to make it 3-56 after Kerins yet again converted.
With the game all-but-over, Barking sprang into life again. Heath missed a number of tackles and the Barking number 8 made the hard yards scoring a well-deserved team try bringing the scoreboard to 8-56. The try roused Heath back to life. The forwards were hungry again for the ball and scrapping for every morsel on the table. The line out was still functioning well, the pick-and-go made the yards and the electric three-quarters provided the flair and vision.
After a couple of extended breaks for injuries, Williams went on another strong run, slicing through the tiring defence to make it 8-63.
Again, the talk from Barking was not of defeat. Their large pack went back to route one. Pick and go. Keep the ball. Protect the ball. Heath prides itself on a tight defence, but their lines were breached again and Barking were not going down without a fight – they were in double figures at 15-63.
Heath were now picking off Barking's line-out and recycling the ball quickly. The ball was spun out wide to Bobby Conroy-Smith who used his stunning pace to weave his way across the line and make it 15-75 to Heath. Despite looking physically exhausted, Barking kept plugging away. Their tighthead showed the way running at the Heath defence like a man possessed and deservedly scored again for the home side and a more respectable 22-75 scoreline.
With the clock ticking towards full time, Heath won a line-out, Barking knocked on and, with advantage being played, Drage reacted quickly to a Barking error to score, making the final score 22-82 to Heath.
Barking put up a determined fight and were excellent hosts throughout the afternoon, both on and off the pitch. Heath's vibrant squad proved too much in the end and deserved the twelve try victory which leaves them sitting in the top third of the table, with little separating the top six teams. There is still a lot of rugby to play and a lot of points to play for this season.
Next Saturday Heath play Beckenham at Whitemans Green, kick off 2.30pm – all support welcome for what is going to be a competitive match against one of their closest rivals in the league.
Heath 1st XV squad: Jack Bull; Alex Wolfe; Euan Greaves-Smith; Steven Doku; Duncan Liddell; Wayne Williams; Nick Main; George Davis; Peter Kerins; Jamie Diggle; Robbie Fotheringham; Jack Lucas; Henry Warwick; Sam Galbraith. Max Drage; Bobby Conroy-Smith; Ali Davis.
Steve Doku retired injured after 10 minutes to be replaced by Max Drage. Bobby Conroy-Smith replaced Sam Galbraith at half time.